The man who once said drug makers are “getting away with murder” may now have to rely on them to save his life.
Despite his trademark cockiness, President Trump is now infected with the same novel coronavirus that has killed more than 1 million people around the world, including some 208,000 Americans.
This is hardly surprising — to me — given his bombast and cavalier attitude toward Covid-19. His own public health experts urged the public to wear masks and social distance, but Trump pooh-poohed them every chance he got as he revved up his campaign with rallies and private glad-handing events.
So he may wind up paying a steep price for leading an incarnation of the Know Nothing Party, a mid-19th century movement that was devoted to disparaging immigrants and upholding American traditions.
After all, Trump is 74 years old and clearly overweight, which means he’s at high risk for having a serious bout of the illness. Even a milder case, though, is likely to leave him beholden to the same companies that he happily vilified over the past few years in order to score political points.
More than once, Trump has willingly irritated drug makers to the point of distraction. Back in January 2017, he jolted the pharmaceutical industry — and investors — by accusing them of “getting away with murder” for their pricing practices.
Not that drug makers deserve a pass on this issue. Too many Americans continue to skimp on their medicines because they can’t afford them. Trump simply played populist savior when he subsequently staged a meeting with several chief executives to discuss drug prices.
Since then, his administration has locked horns with drug companies over various proposals, such as requiring wholesale prices in television ads, importing medicines from Canada, and relying on prices paid by other countries as a benchmark for certain Medicare drugs.
For the most part, though, he’s come out on the losing end because most of these efforts have gone nowhere. And a more recent scheme to send $200 coupon cards to 33 million seniors on Medicare is deservedly derided as a transparent — and very expensive — pitch to win votes just before the election.
Nonetheless, Trump makes a good show of castigating companies that Americans love to hate. But then he did a predictable flip-flop a few months ago after Covid-19 emerged and there was a desperate need for treatments and vaccines.
Suddenly, drug makers are his favored sons. Trump regularly praises some companies for trying to quickly develop vaccines. Yet he simultaneously appears fickle, because he still wants to win votes by criticizing drug prices.
But this is the obvious thing to do, right? The public wants a salve for Covid-19 and lower drug prices.
In that respect, Trump is no different than most politicians.
But he also overplayed his hand.
Last spring, he undermined confidence in the Food and Drug Administration by touting hydroxychloroquine, a decades-old malaria tablet, as a salve for the virus. Despite a lack of evidence, the agency authorized emergency use, only to rescind the decision a few weeks later.
That episode continues to reverberate. Castigated for his inadequate response to the virus, Trump keeps talking up the likelihood that a vaccine would be available before the election.
Talk about a blunder.
Trust in the FDA was already waning, but Trump gives the sorry impression he’ll pressure the agency to authorize a vaccine before its time. In a remarkable rebuke, two different groups of worried industry executives last month issued public statements saying Covid-19 products should not be politicized.
The executives had to take that step because the industry’s reputation will take an enormous hit if a medicine or vaccine is rushed out the door and then proves unsafe or ineffective.
So having twice cynically manipulated drug companies for political gain, it’s not surprising that Trump would do so for personal gain.
After all, he is the president.
Already, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals supplied him with a treatment still being tested for Covid-19. Maybe the Trump team will lean on the FDA to authorize emergency use for a drug in the early stages of testing.
Nothing is out of the question. But it’s hard to miss the irony that Trump may have to go begging from some of the same companies that served as his punching bags.
That said, it’s better than injecting bleach.