Issues & Insights
COVID-19 virus. Source: Centers for Disease Control

Politicizing A COVID-19 Vaccine Is Short-Sighted And Dangerous

Since the start of the pandemic lockdowns in March, the American people have been promised that life will return back to normal once a proven vaccine is produced and distributed across the country. It now looks like we’re getting close to that point, with pharmaceutical producers announcing pivotal breakthroughs in vaccine development. But, this might all be for naught if political posturing gets in the way of science and inoculation.

During the vice presidential debate on Oct. 7, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., declared, “if Donald Trump tells us that we should take … [the vaccine] … I’m not taking it.” But ultimately, it will be the private sector – not a politician – that comes up with a vaccine for the deadly disease. The vaccine will be a product of free enterprise and innovation, not the broken political class. Further politicizing the vaccine will erode trust in science and cost thousands of lives.

As any American can attest, the current political climate is deeply dysfunctional and seems to deteriorate by the day. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, recently said it best:

“I’m troubled by our politics, as it has moved away from spirited debate to a vile, vituperative, hate-filled morass that is unbecoming of any free nation – let alone the birthplace of modern democracy.”

Unfortunately, this noxious political environment poisons everything – including Americans’ resolve to take a vaccine that can bring back normal life. According to an Oct. 12 Gallup poll, only about half of all Americans are willing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The polling organization reports, “This sharp decline comes after the percentage dwindled from 66% in July to 61% in August.”

A majority of Republican voters say they’re unwilling to take a potential COVID-19 vaccine, owing to a distrust of the public health establishment and COVID-19 precautions more generally. The Democratic side has had its own difficulties embracing vaccines. Even if Democratic leadership is fine with a vaccine in theory, it doesn’t want to be seen as endorsing a medical innovation associated with the Trump administration. Nor does it want to be seen as embracing less regulation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has strongly pushed back on the idea of relying on United Kingdom regulators in approving a vaccine in the U.S., arguing that the U.K. regulates medications more loosely than the U.S. This reticence is unfounded and counterproductive to the vaccine approval effort. Legal analyst Nicole Perez notes, “[drug] regulation in Great Britain is actually more similar to that of the United States than any other nation.”

One key difference is that the approval process across the pond relies more heavily on independent advisory committees to gauge drug efficacy in order to reduce political influence in the process. Pelosi and her legislative allies should cheer this diminished political influence since it gives ideological opponents such as President Donald Trump and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson less of a say in the development process. And when the regulatory process prioritizes evidence over political games, the private sector is free to develop cutting-edge products.

On both sides of the Atlantic, companies and researchers are leaving no stone unturned in their search for a COVID-19 inoculation. In September, producer AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford resumed testing on a vaccine candidate that could put an end to COVID-19. Meanwhile, biotechnology companies such as Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are in the midst of phase 3 trials and may soon be ready to submit their products to the Food and Drug Administration for approval.

While it’s unclear which company will come out with the first vaccine, the herculean development effort is resulting in some of the fastest research breakthroughs in modern medical history. And this effort, not political posturing and grandstanding, is critical in beating back this deadly disease. The COVID-19 vaccine will not be Trump’s, or any other politician’s, vaccine. It will be the world’s vaccine, borne out of private sector innovation and global ingenuity.

Ross Marchand is a senior fellow for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

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