Democrats increasingly worry Trump will push out dangerous COVID-19 vaccine as 'October surprise'
Donald Trump speaks at White House coronavirus task force briefing (MSNBC/screen grab)

Democrats are growing increasingly worried the Trump administration will politicize the rollout of a possible coronavirus vaccine ahead of November's election.

Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) pointedly asked Food and Drug Administration chief Dr. Stephen Hahn last week whether he could promise the administration would not rush out a vaccine to boost the president's re-election chances -- and she wasn't assured by his answer, reported The Daily Beast.

“Dr. Hahn has his talking points down on following the data and the evidence," Smith said, "and I appreciate he said that, but the proof is in the pudding."

Smith, a first-term Democrat, said she posed the question because of Trump's track record of pushing the unproven treatment hydroxychloroquine and repeatedly claiming the virus would just disappear.

“It’s deeply concerning to me that the president and the administration would offer up some false hope in a hail-mary effort to rescue the election," Smith said, "to put pressure on scientists and epidemiologists to say, there’s a vaccine."

She's not alone in her concerns.

“I would not put it past this administration and this president to advance his personal political agenda ahead of our national interest,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL). “That’s why so many of us are so deeply disturbed by the prospect that … what’s going to happen is a bunch of emergency use authorizations are going to be handed out at ‘warp speed.’”

Public health experts Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel and Dr. Paul Offit published a column in the New York Times last month raising the same concerns about the politicization of a potentially unsafe vaccine.

“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.”

Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar predicted Tuesday that a leading vaccine candidate under development could potentially "deliver hundreds of millions of doses this fall and into early next year,” but health experts are dubious this could be done safely.

“There is no way that a properly-tested vaccine could be ready before the election,” Dr. Vincent Racaniello, a professor of immunology at Columbia University.

However, Racaniello told The Daily Beast that Trump could plausibly claim victory before the election if a vaccine could be shown to be safe and effective.

“It’s not technically correct,” Racaniello said. “He does this all the time and gets away with it.”

Democratic lawmakers agree, they don't think scientists will get sucked into that political scheme.

“Would the president in November declare victory and have a press conference?” said Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL). “Yes, but he’s not going to get the scientists to say what he’s going to want. The entire scientific community is going to be watching this like a hawk.”

The science and medical communities have many built-in safeguards to protect the public from potentially reckless political decisions, and Democratic lawmakers remain hopeful those won't be corrupted.

“I think we are going to listen to the scientist on this,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI). “We have high faith in Dr. [Anthony] Fauci. When he says it we will believe it. I don’t have any doubt that Donald Trump will make up anything, say anything and direct anything that he thinks will help him, even if it puts people’s health at risk. He will say and do anything that will serve his purpose.”