This week, Johnson & Johnson paused a clinical trial of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate because one of its 60,000 participants is experiencing an “unexplained illness.” This comes after AstraZeneca briefly paused a trial just last month after one of its 30,000 subjects had experienced an illness. That trial resumed once an investigation revealed that the illness was unrelated to the test vaccinwe, but the delay is not harmless.
Although any slowdown in the testing of a vaccine is a disappointment for a world eager to return to normal as soon as possible, both of these pauses should help debunk the dangerous fearmongering being pushed by the media and leading Democrats that President Donald Trump is going to rush out an unsafe vaccine before the election.
In the vice presidential debate last week, Sen. Kamala Harris reiterated her statement that she would not take a vaccine exclusively on Trump’s say-so.
“If the public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it, absolutely,” Harris said. “But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.”
Her answer is an attempt to give credence to liberal conspiracy theories over vaccine development while simultaneously dodging criticism for indulging the anti-vaccination movement. In reality, the argument is a straw man. There is no universe in which Trump somehow declares a vaccine safe and effective and individuals suddenly find themselves in a position to choose whether or not to take it purely on his word.
These self-initiated pauses demonstrate that pharmaceutical companies are not eager to rush out unsafe vaccines to hundreds of millions of people.
Furthermore, despite the talk about the politicization of science under the Trump administration, the Food and Drug Administration has released guidance to drugmakers, saying that it would not authorize the emergency use of any COVID-19 vaccine unless the companies monitored study participants for two months after the conclusion of the trial. Drugmakers did not protest this, as it had been widely assumed and expected.
Critics of the Trump administration have pointed to the FDA previously authorizing the use of hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma in treating coronavirus patients as evidence that they would be cowed into short-circuiting safety requirements to rush out a vaccine. But those cases cannot be fairly compared to the considerations regarding authorizing the use of the vaccine. Previous treatments were OK’d for the use of patients who were already infected by the coronavirus and were in a life-or-death situation in which doctors had to consider trying literally anything possible to improve survival chances.
Any vaccine, however, will be given to hundreds of millions of perfectly healthy people. Nobody wants to take the risk of injecting perfectly healthy people with something unless they’re confident that it is safe.
It was never realistic to think that large drug companies and federal regulators would short-circuit the normal process just to rush out a vaccine to help Trump’s electoral fortunes. That’s just crazy talk. The choice outlined by Democrats such as Harris (of considering whether to take a vaccine purely on Trump’s say-so) was never going to be a choice that any person would plausibly have to face.
Given that no vaccine is expected to be effective for everybody who takes it, an overwhelming majority of the population is likely going to have to take it to produce anything resembling herd immunity to COVID-19. Thanks to statements such as those from Harris, however, public skepticism about a vaccine is higher than it should be — meaning that the task of public health officials will be made more difficult once a vaccine hopefully clears regulatory hurdles. This is a dangerous and potentially deadly political game that Democrats are playing.
—The Washington Examiner