The politicization of the issue has unsettled voters. In a recent survey by the Harris Poll and STAT News, 78 percent of respondents — 72 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats — expressed concern that the vaccine approval process was “being driven more by politics than science.” Eighty-three percent said that if a vaccine were approved quickly, they would worry about its safety.
To be fair, Mr. Trump did not single-handedly destroy the public’s confidence in government regulators. Government-bashing has been a Republican staple for decades, with special enmity reserved for regulatory agencies, which, in the view of many conservatives, serve only to pervert the beauty and rationality of the market. As with so many of his party’s longstanding lines of attack, Mr. Trump has distilled the disdain for government expertise and oversight to its toxic essence.
On one level, it’s befuddling to see drug companies pitching themselves as guardians of the public good. Big Pharma has a well-earned reputation as being synonymous with Big Greed. Practically speaking, the new joint statement doesn’t do all that much. It is, for instance, somewhat vague about precisely what requirements the companies would meet before seeking emergency authorization.
But from a messaging standpoint, the pledge is illuminating. Even the most avaricious drug executives recognize that absent a baseline of public confidence in their products, the companies’ bottom lines will suffer. Mr. Trump is destroying that baseline.
Vaccine safety was already a sensitive subject. Anti-vaxxers stand ready to spread fear and conspiracy theories without any political provocation. (The “Plandemic” conspiracy that exploded on social media, which claims the coronavirus is the handiwork of a sinister band of elites, features a big dose of anti-vax nuttiness.) The last thing drug companies want is for the president to fuel fears about the integrity of a coronavirus vaccine.
Last weekend, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s newly minted running mate, voiced hesitation about receiving any vaccine that might emerge before Election Day. “I would not trust Donald Trump, and it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about,” she told CNN. “I will not take his word for it.”