The CDC and FDA Are Just Arms of the Trump Re-election Campaign

The CDC alerted states to be ready to distribute a covid-19 vaccine by November 1. Two days before election day. Seriously.

Federal health officials are urging states to get ready for coronavirus vaccine distribution by Nov. 1, according to a letter obtained by POLITICO.

The letter from CDC Director Robert Redfield to governors is the latest indication that the Trump administration is preparing to deliver on the president’s promise for a coronavirus vaccine this year. But it’s unclear if any vaccine could be ready by Nov. 1, just two days before Election Day.

It’s not unclear at all. there’s no way a vaccine will be ready for mass distribution just two days before Election Day  Even if one were approved by the FDA already, manufacturing vaccines in large quantities isn’t a matter of just pushing a button at the vaccine manufacturing plant. It’s a complex process that can take months.

From the New York Times:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has notified public health officials in all 50 states and five large cities to prepare to distribute a coronavirus vaccine to health care workers and other high-risk groups as soon as late October or early November.

The new C.D.C. guidance is the latest sign of an accelerating race for a vaccine to greatly ease a pandemic that has killed more than 184,000 Americans. The documents were sent out last week, the same day that President Trump told the nation in his speech to the Republican convention that a vaccine might arrive before the end of the year.

In other words, this was coordinated with the Trump campaign.

“This timeline of the initial deployment at the end of October is deeply worrisome for the politicization of public health and the potential safety ramifications,” said Saskia Popescu, an infection prevention epidemiologist based in Arizona. “It’s hard not to see this as a push for a pre-election vaccine.”

The science people have been saying all along that while we might get a vaccine approved for use this year, it won’t be available for most of us until some time next year. And so far I’m not seeing anything to contradict that projection. At best, before the end of this year we might see limited distribution to health care workers, or more likely to people with connections to the Trump family. But not to most of us.

The worst part of this is that it undermines — I should say, further undermines — the credibility of the FDA and CDC at a time we really need to be able to trust the FDA and CDC. We need honest information about what’s going on. And when there is a vaccine, people have to be willing to take it.

The FDA and CDC were already being slammed for political decisions before this latest announcement. This is from August 28.

The credibility of two of the nation’s leading public health agencies was under fire this week after controversial decisions that outside experts said smacked of political pressure from President Donald Trump as he attempts to move past the devastating toll of the coronavirus ahead of the November election.

The head of the Food and Drug Administration grossly misstated, then corrected, claims about the lifesaving power of a plasma therapy for COVID-19 authorized by his agency. Then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly updated its guidelines to suggest fewer Americans need to get tested for coronavirus, sparking outrage from scientists. …

… On Friday, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn removed a conservative public relations official involved in the botched plasma announcement from her role heading the agency’s press office, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

The move came less than two weeks after the White House tapped Emily Miller for the role. Miller previously worked as a reporter for the right-wing One America News Network and as a staffer for Sen. Ted Cruz’s reelection campaign. She did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

I want to inject here that there is no way Emily Miller would have been hired if Trump hadn’t demanded it. Politico: “Colleagues said that Miller, with no prior medical or science experience, was a bad fit inside an agency rushing to fight a pandemic. ‘There was an inability to do anything inside the agency,’ said one health official. ‘She couldn’t even pronounce convalescent plasma.'”

Trump administration officials said Wednesday that the CDC testing guidance was revised by the White House virus task force “to reflect current evidence,” but did not detail what that was. The new recommendations say it’s not necessary for most people who have been in close contact with infected people, but don’t feel sick, to get tested. Outside experts said that flies in the face of the scientific consensus that wide-scale testing is needed to stamp out new infections.

The week began with Hahn forced to backtrack after using an erroneous statistic describing the effectiveness of the blood plasma therapy granted emergency use for COVID-19, as Trump twisted the facts and inflated the significance of the move.

Hahn “hurt his own credibility, he hurt that of his agency and he probably hurt the credibility of the next vaccine that will get approved,” said Daniel Carpenter, a Harvard University professor of government.

So medical and health professionals aren’t trusting the CDC and FDA these days. What hope do the rest of us have?

The Trump Administration may already have hurt U.S. chances for getting the most effective vaccine by refusing to join with other countries in the effort. See 172 countries and multiple candidate vaccines engaged in COVID-19 vaccine Global Access Facility from the World Health Organization. This effort, called the COVAX initiative, is “a global initiative aimed at working with vaccine manufacturers to provide countries worldwide equitable access to safe and effective vaccines, once they are licensed and approved.” Most of the world is involved, but not the U.S., of course. Because Trump does not play well with others.

Charles Pierce, today: “[T]he US bail on the WHO program not only could put this country on the outside looking in, but also will hamstring the effort to prevent hoarding, and to guarantee an equitable distribution of a safe vaccine once one is developed.”

So the same pack of clowns who botched getting an effective test distributed a few months ago will be in charge of getting a vaccine distributed,. We’re doomed.

Kaiser Health Network/Associated Press:

In a four-page memo this summer, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told health departments across the country to draft vaccination plans by Oct. 1 “to coincide with the earliest possible release of COVID-19 vaccine.”

But health departments that have been underfunded for decades say they currently lack the staff, money and tools to educate people about vaccines and then to distribute, administer and track hundreds of millions of doses. Nor do they know when, or if, they’ll get federal aid to do that. …

… An ongoing investigation by KHN and the AP has detailed how state and local public health departments across the U.S. have been starved for decades, leaving them underfunded and without adequate resources to confront the coronavirus pandemic. The investigation further found that federal coronavirus funds have been slow to reach public health departments, forcing some communities to cancel non-coronavirus vaccine clinics and other essential services.

States are allowed to use some of the federal money they’ve already received to prepare for immunizations. But KHN and the AP found that many health departments are so overwhelmed with the current costs of the pandemic — such as testing and contact tracing — that they can’t reserve money for the vaccine work to come. Health departments will need to hire people to administer the vaccines and systems to track them, and pay for supplies such as protective medical masks, gowns and gloves, as well as warehouses and refrigerator space. …

…Many health officials say they feel burned by the country’s struggle to provide hospitals with ventilators last spring, when states found themselves bidding against one another for a limited supply. Those concerns are amplified by the country’s continuing difficulties providing enough testing kits; supplying health workers with personal protective equipment; allocating drugs such as remdesivir; and recruiting contact tracers — who track down everyone with whom people diagnosed with COVID-19 have been in contact.

Although Ehresmann said she’s concerned Minnesota could run out of syringes, she said the CDC has assured her they will provide them.

Given that vaccines are far more complex than personal protective equipment and other medical supplies — one vaccine candidate must be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit — Plescia said people should be prepared for shortages, delays and mix-ups.

“It’s probably going to be even worse than the problems with testing and PPE,” Plescia said.

Those are just highlights; you need to read the whole thing to get an inkling of the scope of the problem. And Trump’s political hires are not the people who can pull this off, even assuming Mitch McConnell will agree to spend the money.

Right now, only about half of Americans say they are willing to take a covid vaccine, and I can’t say I blame them. If Trump’s people rush out a vaccine that turns out to have unfortunate side effects, we can kiss off being rid of the virus until long after the rest of the world has moved on. No point renewing your passport, folks; you ain’t goin’ anywhere.

If Joe Biden wins the November election, his first task will be to have replacements ready to take charge of the FDA, CDC, and every other agency connected to public health so that they can hit the ground running immediately after the inauguration. In 139 days. A lot can happen until then.

Close-up medical syringe with a vaccine.