The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging states to be ready to begin distributing a COVID-19 vaccine by November 1—an extremely ambitious plan that conspicuously falls just days before the presidential election.
Though public health experts say federal and state officials should certainly be planning for a vaccination rollout—and the daunting task of eventually vaccinating more than 300 million Americans against COVID-19 in a phased, equitable, orderly way—the pre-election deadline for the work heightens fears of political interference in the effort.
In recent weeks, critics and experts have been alarmed by policy changes and decisions at the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration that appear politically motivated. The CDC, which will help orchestrate vaccine distribution, recently reversed evidence-based testing guidelines, for instance. The move so alarmed and outraged experts that two high-profile scientists and former officials encouraged states to disregard the agency entirely and set their own evidence-based public health policies.
And the Food and Drug Administration, which will have to grant approval or an emergency authorization for any vaccine that will be distributed, is not in a much better position. Just last week, critics accused the agency of buckling to political pressure to authorize the use of a convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19 patients, even though experts pointed out that the clinical data so far does not support plasmas use, and the National Institutes of Health publicly opposes it.
In that context, experts and the public have repeatedly expressed concern that the FDA may be politically pressured to greenlight a vaccine before gathering the necessary safety and efficacy data, particularly before the November election, which could benefit the Trump administration. In a recent survey by Stat news and the Harris Poll, 78 percent of Americans said they were worried that FDA approval of a COVID-19 vaccine would be driven by politics rather than science.
The CDCs new, urgent push to ready vaccine distribution before the election seems unlikely to lower those numbers.
In an August 27 letter sent to all 50 states, CDC Director Robert Redfield pressed governors to fast-track permits and licensing for vaccine distribution sites, according to McClatchy.
“CDC urgently requests your assistance in expediting applications for these distribution facilities,” Redfield reportedly wrote, “and, if necessary, asks that you consider waiving requirements that would prevent these facilities from becoming fully operational by November 1, 2020.”