The U.S. Senate will on Wednesday hold a hearing on the development of vaccines aimed at eradicating the coronavirus, amid an escalated political rhetoric regarding the potential effectiveness of a fast-tracked vaccine.
As President Trump has promised to expedite treatments against the virus that has killed nearly 190,000 Americans, he has appeared publicly rankled by critics who question his handling of the pandemic and those who are skeptical of the viability of a safe vaccine in such record time.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions will hear from advisers to the president’s coronavirus response, including National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams.
With his standing in opinion polls slipping as the coronavirus death toll rises, Trump has in recent weeks escalated promises of a vaccine against the virus to be ready for the public before the end of the year, indicating that a treatment could be available just ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.
“Under Operation Warp Speed, we’re producing a vaccine in record time. This is a vaccine that we’re going to have very soon, very, very soon. By the end of the year, but much sooner than that, perhaps. And this is something that’s incredible. This would’ve taken two or three years by the last administration, and in all fairness, by most other administrations,” Trump said in a rambling Tuesday press conference, in which he disparaged his 2020 rival, Democrat Joe Biden, and Biden’s running-mate, Kamala Harris.
The president continued that Biden and Harris “are undermining science and risking countless lives with their reckless, anti-vaccine rhetoric” and accusing Democrats of playing politics with public health.
“So now they know we have it. It’s only a question of weeks or small amount of time. So instead of saying ‘that’s a great thing, we’re going to save lives,’ they’re trying to disparage it. They’re trying to make it politics,” he said.
“And now what’s going to happen is we’ll have it, and people won’t want to take it. That’s really bad, OK? That’s really bad.”
Biden and Harris have both indicated a degree of skepticism towards the president’s ability to deliver a vaccine based on the short time frame and Trump’s own missteps and misstatements regarding the virus.
The president has in the past given mixed-messaging on his views on the efficacy of face masks, which research has shown to be highly effective in limiting the spread of the coronaviurs, and has previously promoted dangerous, untested treatments for the illness, including suggesting that injecting commercial cleaning agents could fend off the virus.
Sen. Harris, in an interview this week, denied that she was suspicious of the vaccine because of political reasons, saying that she would trust a vaccine developed under the Trump administration “if the public health professionals and the scientists told us that we could trust it.”
Seizing on the Biden/Harris ticket’s wariness of a rushed vaccine, the Trump campaign in a Sunday statement accused the pair of “fear mongering” and promoting “anti-vax conspiracy theories.”
“A coronavirus vaccine is a key part of returning America to normal and making our economy great again, and that’s why President Trump is working hard to deliver a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine for the American people as soon as possible,” the Trump campaign said.
“Biden and Harris are saying this for political reasons, knowing full well their irresponsible rhetoric could lead to more dead Americans. They don’t seem to care that they are contradicting the scientists and top public health officials.”
The race to produce a vaccine against the virus, dubbed Operation Warp Speed by the president, is part of the administration’s response to the unprecedented global pandemic. Since March, U.S. operations have been severely stunted through hundreds of thousands of deaths across the globe, a clogged national healthcare system and the shuttering of thousands of small businesses.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidance for states to be prepared to distribute a vaccine to high-risk groups by as soon as late-October, Trump’s own advisers have warned that the likelihood of a safe, effective vaccine within just a few weeks is “extremely unlikely.”
The development for an effective vaccine against the coronavirus by even the end of the year would mark a watershed moment in medicine, as vaccines typically take several years, if not decades, to succeed.