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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.

Megan Thielking / STAT Source: STAT/ the Harris Poll survey, conducted August 25-27, 2020.

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.

  • Richard Meyer, clinical proof has already arrived for Moderna and AZ/Oxford. Both vaccine types generate high levels of antibodies with minimal side effects.

    As far as recruitment is concerned, the numbers overall are good — the problem is getting Black and Latino recruits.

    sarc/I don’t know why this is a problem…aren’t race and ethnicity as “social constructs?\sarc

    Anyway, Phase 3 vaccine trials as “normally” conducted are effectively useless.

    The “gold standard” of waiting around for 6 months to a year to see if the placebo and inoculated arms show statistically significant differences in infection rates is basically a waste of time — by then, the virus will have worked though the population ANYWAY.

    “Great we have a vaccine…but what? No one needs it now?”

    Look, both the mRNA and adenovirus approaches are going to work, and do so with minimal side effects. They work now. If the population has your attitude, and doesn’t get it when they are perfectly healthy, the virus is going to spread.

    Are there risks? Life is full of risks, but the risks for these vaccines are very very low. If you’re under 60, are in good health, and have no major co-morbidities and no autoimmune disease, they you should not hesitate to get jabbed. And there are lots of people who fit that category.

    But all we need is ENOUGH people to take the vaccine so the R naught is low. And to achieve that, sufficiently widespread inoculation has to occur sooner than later. Of all the variables, time is the most important. And that has nothing do with the presidential election.

    • @KarlPK—about 60% of the people in the phase 1 studies had side effects of the vaccine and these were young healthy cherry picked individual. Yes life if full of risks, but you can take steps to mitigate those risks, like not crossing the street in front of oncoming traffic.

      If you are under 60, in good health, and no major co-morbidities/no autoimmune disease, then it is highly unlikely you will experience any serious complications of Covid-19, or die from it. Whereas an untested and unproven vaccine may have dire consequences. Thanks but no thanks, I think the risk of getting “jabbed” with a vaccine that’s approved due to politics and not science far outweighs the risk of COVID-19 for me. But thanks for the advice.

    • @Heks, you’re right about the risks of infection for those under 60 — but that’s not THE problem. The problem is stopping the spread FROM that cohort. These are the people who are “out and about,” living life in normal ways.

      If one could arrange somehow to get every healthy person under 60 infected and then sufficiently quarantined for an adequate amount of time, then we wouldn’t NEED a vaccine because the R naught would collapse to zero. We’d get herd immunity. But that, of course, is unrealistic.

      As for the side effects of the Moderna vaccine, go to a STAT competitor to find the answer.

      “Older adults suffered similar side effects to their younger counterparts—the most common effect was pain at the injection site, followed by fatigue, muscle pain, headache and chills. Side effects were more common after the second dose of the vaccine. There were no serious side effects.”

      These were Phase 1 results, and at very high doses. “Pain at the injection site.” Well, duh!!

      Of course, that’s one of the purposes of a Phase 1 — to find the level of efficacy at the lowest possible dosage as a prelude to the next phases with larger Ns.

      I believe that the mRNA approach is a huge breakthrough is developing swift, effective, minimally negative vaccines. mRNA deteriorates rapidly, but also quickly gets the immune system to create antibodies.

      Again, TIME is the most important variable. It’s why flu shots are largely ineffective — by the time you get “approval,” the virus mutation that the shot attempts to stop has already run its course.

  • We’re not likely to get a challenge study. It’s not what’s been done in past, and not in Pharma’s interest. Trump will not approve a drug or vaccine, it’s not what President’s do, it’s what FDA does. The true stakeholders are BIG PHARMA and BILL GATES. Most people think a vaccine will save humanity from coronavirus since Fauci announced at the 1st press conference ” A vaccine is our only way out of this.” And 60 – 70% will get it, so is Trump pandering a little, I think so, and any Pres in his place would do same. But if you have concerns about this vaccine being mandatory or unsafe, tweet or write him your concern. One thing this Pres does is read and he’s responsive. Empty attacks here do no one any good.

  • Dipthroat, maybe, just maybe, Trump wants to, you know, ACCOMPLISH something, aside from being re-elected. You know, to help people.

    OWS ain’t goin’ anywhere. If I were you, I would expect an EUA by mid-October for one or more vaccines, assuming risk profiles for certain cohorts look good.

    • Wait, so if Trump gets a vaccine out too quick, it’s bad? And if he doesn’t get one out quickly enough, it’s bad?

      Seems like a dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t situation. No surprise anymore.

  • the only way to get Trump to take his hands of the approval process is to survey citizens about whether they will change their vote in Trump’s favor should the vaccine be approved before the elections. Which it shouldn’t, as working toward a vaccine should be a fundamental duty of any administration during an epidemic.
    If the survey will clearly indicate that it will not change people’s mind about presidential elections, potus will forget about it in no time. Although, then there is a real chance he will defund and shut down OWS right away, because you know ….

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