I didn’t watch a nanosecond of the Republican National Convention last week, but I couldn’t escape Trump’s bold proclamation that the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic will soon come to an end. “We are delivering lifesaving therapies and will produce a vaccine before the end of the year — or maybe even sooner,” the American autocrat declared in his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination. Later, he repeated the pledge to deliver “a safe and effective vaccine this year” along with the promise to “crush the virus.”
We heard about some of these “lifesaving therapies” days prior when Trump and two health officials announced the emergency approval of blood plasma treatments for hospitalized Covid-19 patients that purportedly could reduce deaths. Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, argued that 35 out of 100 Covid-19 patients “would have been saved because of the administration of plasma.”
“I don’t want you to gloss over this number,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II stressed. And people didn’t — because it didn’t take very long at all for that statistic to be proven a lie.
After being blasted by his scientists and others in the medical community, Hahn took to Twitter. “I have been criticized for remarks I made Sunday night about the benefits of convalescent plasma,” he wrote. “The criticism is entirely justified. What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction, not an absolute risk reduction.”
I’m no doctor, but I’m fairly good at clocking people who put together a string of words to indirectly acknowledge that they are full of shit. Hahn’s blasé apology should not blind anyone to his real omission, or to the dangers it speaks to. As we inch closer to Election Day, and the coronavirus pandemic — arguably the biggest issue at stake right now — continues to ravage the country with no end in sight, President Trump is seemingly willing to rush out a vaccine to win reelection.
As much as I loathe the anti-vaxxer movement, even I have hard time yelling “shots-shots-shots-shots-shots” when it comes to a potential coronavirus vaccine being released in 2020 under a program called Operation Warp Speed overseen by a president who thinks like a dead animal and behaves like a showboating Grand Wizard.
And now there are heads of government agencies willing to help him in his iniquitous cause.
While the FDA commissioner defeated the purpose of his own agency by not validating claims of effectiveness before sharing them with the country last week, the CDC simultaneously gave us reason to doubt them by announcing an abrupt change in federal testing guidelines. Previously, the CDC said that Covid testing was appropriate for people with recent or suspected exposure even if they were asymptomatic — which could constitute approximately 40% of all cases. Why?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield told CNN last Wednesday: “These updated guidelines, coordinated in conjunction with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, received appropriate attention, consultation, and input from task force experts.” A separate source confirmed to CNN that the changes come as a result of “pressure from the upper ranks of the Trump administration.”
And where was Dr. Anthony Fauci, the only person who seems to care if most Americans live or die? Not even conscious, as it turns out. “I was under general anesthesia in the operating room and was not part of any discussion or deliberation regarding the new testing recommendations,” he told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
As the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Fauci has been the Trump administration’s best asset in combating the pandemic, and he was sidelined months ago due to Trump’s jealously of his popularity and contempt for the expertise that helped paved the way for it. The sidelining undoubtedly helped lead to more misinformation (from the president himself), and by extension, more illness and death. Still, even after the numbers rose to 6 million confirmed cases in the U.S. (and a likely reality of multiples more), Trump waits until his best medical expert is anesthetized in surgery to make the situation worse.
The optics alone were bad. Donald Trump is the stupidest president of my lifetime. He does not read, is prone to conspiracy, is shortsighted, and above all, desperate for power. If you recall, he wondered aloud if we could all drink bleach and insert laser lights into our bodies to ward off the coronavirus. And who could forget the promotion of hydroxychloroquine?
Given all that, what faith should any of us have in whatever vaccine Trump claims will be safe and effective?
In a separate interview with Reuters, Fauci warned of what harm a vaccine released too soon might yield. “The one thing that you would not want to see with a vaccine is getting an EUA (emergency use authorization) before you have a signal of efficacy,” he explained. “One of the potential dangers if you prematurely let a vaccine out is that it would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the other vaccines to enroll people in their trial.”
On the same day Trump professed we’d have a vaccine by year’s end, the chief investigator for one vaccine trial confirmed to the Palm Beach Post that the trial is on pause due to “a question by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on whether a European trial is good enough to start manufacturing and distributing the vaccine.”
Some parts of the population were already skeptical of Trump-led vaccination efforts, and none of this recent news is helping. Back in May, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found only half of Black Americans said they were somewhat or very interested in taking a COVID-19 vaccine. You can’t really blame Black folks given the legacy of the Tuskegee Experiment, the U.S. government study that left Black men deliberately untreated for syphilis.
Not much progress has been made to ease such qualms through outreach. Black and Latinx people have been disproportionately hit by Covid-19, representing as much as half of all cases, but only 15% of the participants in vaccine trials are reportedly nonwhite. Stories like that make me think of reports about how poor Black and Latinx men who have sex with men became the face of HIV not so much out of lack of safe sex practices, but due to lack of outreach from health organizations. Extrapolate from there, and it’s not hard to see who will be left behind this time around.
By August 24, national forecasts suggested anywhere that as many as 8,300 new coronavirus-related deaths will be reported in the week ending September 19. Should that hold, the reported death range will have grown to more than 200,000 — and if an unsafe vaccine is rushed out, even more could die. As much as I loathe the anti-vaxxer movement, even I have hard time yelling “shots-shots-shots-shots-shots-shots” when it comes to a potential coronavirus vaccine being released in 2020 under a program called Operation Warp Speed overseen by a president who thinks like a dead animal and behaves like a showboating Grand Wizard.
What’s most frightening, however, is that Fauci is correct: In the rush to produce a vaccine, people will be less inclined to take it even if one is ultimately proven safe and effective. But the Trump administration has a plan for that, too.
According to the Washington Post, if all else fails, the administration is planning to go with the “herd immunity” option — thanks to the advice of Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist and fellow at Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution, who joined the White House in August as a pandemic adviser. But read until the end and you’ll find this: “In the United States, with a population of 328 million, reaching a 65% threshold for herd immunity may require 2.13 million deaths, assuming the virus has a 1% fatality rate, according to an analysis by the Post.”
2 million deaths. Let that sink in.
On Monday night, at least one sitting senator called Trump the killer he is. “I do believe this President is deliberately killing people because all he had to do was make different choices about the behavior that he modeled and there would be thousands of additional people alive today,” Sen. Chris Murphy, an attorney, told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.
“This is a president who knew exactly what he was doing,” Murphy continued. “He knew by refusing to socially distance people in his convention, by refusing to let them wear masks — or at least not requiring masks — that he was sending a clear message to all of his followers that those things aren’t worthwhile.”