Seventy-eight percent of Americans worry the Covid-19 vaccine approval process is being driven more by politics than science, according to a new survey from STAT and the Harris Poll, a reflection of concern that the Trump administration may give the green light to a vaccine prematurely.
The response was largely bipartisan, with 72% of Republicans and 82% of Democrats expressing such worries, according to the poll, which was conducted last week and surveyed 2,067 American adults.
The sentiment underscores rising speculation that President Trump may pressure the Food and Drug Administration to approve or authorize emergency use of at least one Covid-19 vaccine prior to the Nov. 3 election, but before testing has been fully completed.
Concerns intensified in recent days after Trump suggested in a tweet that the FDA is part of a “deep state” conspiracy to sabotage his reelection bid. In a speech Thursday night at the Republican National Convention, he pledged that the administration “will produce a vaccine before the end of the year, or maybe even sooner.”
In fact, his remarks over the past several months have stirred debate and anxiety over the extent to which certain FDA decisions may be politicized. In the process, the agency’s scientific integrity has been questioned and FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, a political appointee who took the job earlier this year, has faced mounting criticism.
In March, for instance, the agency authorized emergency use of hydroxychloroquine, a decades-old malaria tablet that Trump touted despite tenuous evidence it could help Covid-19 patients. The agency later reversed its decision after data began to suggest otherwise, and that the drug may be harmful.
Last week, the FDA issued emergency use of convalescent blood plasma, which Trump claimed would save “thousands and thousands of lives,” although its impact is expected to be relatively modest. The administration also labeled the move, which was announced on the eve of the Republican convention, as a “medical breakthrough.”
Consequently, just 46% of the public trusts the president or the White House to provide accurate information about the development of a Covid-19 vaccine, although views vary dramatically along partisan lines — with 71% of Republicans believing Trump and only 28% of Democrats believing him.
The public is not much more more confident in the media as a source of information on vaccine development, with 47% viewing national news outlets as trustworthy. Only social media fared worse as a source of information, with just 29% of respondents trusting information on the platforms.
Even with concern about the FDA’s independence, the poll also found that 67% of those surveyed said they would get a vaccine as soon as one is available. Moreover, 62% are very or somewhat likely to get a Covid-19 vaccine that becomes available before the election. And Americans appear more willing to do so over time, with 71% reporting they would get vaccinated nine months after availability.
Meanwhile, despite concerns that Trump will succeed in forcing the FDA to move too quickly, 72% of Americans doubt a vaccine will become available before 2021 and 68% say they are confident that FDA will only endorse a vaccine that is safe.
This lingering hope in the FDA may reflect the fact that 72% of Americans trust the agency to provide accurate information about the development of a Covid-19 vaccine. That’s less than the 88% who trust doctors and nurses for such information, as well as hospitals, scientists, pharmacists, medical journals and local government health departments.