Here’s how Trump could turn the COVID-19 vaccine into a dangerous re-election gimmick
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A pair of public health experts warned just how easily -- and irresponsibly -- President Donald Trump could pressure government agencies to approve an unproven coronavirus vaccine to boost his election chances.


Vaccines require the completion of large, prospective, placebo-controlled studies of safety and effectiveness before they can safely be used, but Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel and Dr. Paul Offit published a column in the New York Times showing how the president could demand an Emergency Use Authorization for an unproven COVID-19 vaccine.

"These authorizations only require that the F.D.A. finds it 'reasonable to believe' that a vaccine 'may be effective' in preventing a life-threatening disease for it to be put on the market, without being formally licensed," the physicians wrote.

That would allow Trump to hold a news conference declaring victory over the pandemic just days before the election, but Emanuel and Offit said there's not enough time before then to properly develop a vaccine.

"Giving people a false sense of being protected will most likely lead to serious outbreaks of the disease as people reduce their compliance with physical distancing and other public health measures," wrote Emanuel, professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, and Offit, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania and co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine.

"If only 20,000 participants receive the vaccine, serious but rare side effects might be missed," they added. "If such harms eventually arise, it could further erode a fragile vaccine confidence and threaten the ability to get enough people vaccinated to establish herd immunity. That would be a disaster."

Trump and pharmaceutical companies would be sorely tempted to rush a vaccine to market, but Emanuel and Offit called for more caution to prevent the pandemic from becoming worse.

"Thousands of Americans have already died as Donald Trump has perpetually postponed effective public health interventions and made poor therapeutic recommendations," they wrote. "We must be on alert to prevent him from corrupting the rigorous assessment of safety and effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines in order to pull an October vaccine surprise to try to win re-election."