There is a fear among many that the so-called "October Surprise" won't be another international scandal at the White House, but President Donald Trump announcing a vaccine, whether there is one or not.
Washington Post political columnist Greg Sargent explained in his Monday column that scientists are issuing a warning in a series of New York Times interviews. Either Trump will like and announce a vaccine that isn't ready or he'll rush the process to ensure a vaccine is ready, whether it is or not. Some of the scientists even work for the American government and have updated information on the status of a vaccine.
Sadly, it isn't mere speculation. Insiders already see the White House lay the groundwork for a miraculous cure to the virus just in time for Election Day.
"Experts inside and outside the government" fear "the White House will push the Food and Drug Administration to overlook insufficient data and give at least limited emergency approval to a vaccine, perhaps for use by specific groups like front-line health care workers, before the vote on Nov. 3," said the Times.
"It is the perfect Trumpian paradox that his long record of just this sort of corruption underscores why this scenario should be entertained with deadly seriousness — but also why it will likely fail," wrote Sargent.
The way a vaccine is generally approved is with an independent advisory panel of experts. Typically the FDA follows their advice, but the Trump administration isn't, and they may not even use the panel of experts or staff the panel with Trump cronies.
Sargent cited one member of that advisory committee saying those working on the inside "are very nervous" about whether the administration will prematurely announce a vaccine before it has been tested and is assured it's safe. Then, they'll "roll it out" from the White House podium. The expert told the Times that people are right to be worried: "They should be."
Trump announced on Twitter that he thinks the vaccine will be available "ahead of schedule" and "very, very early before the end of the year." It doesn't exactly match up with experts who have said that it would take at least a year, and more like a year and a half.
"Trump has explicitly tied the timing of the vaccine to his reelection needs," wrote Sargent. "When he announced a campaign shake-up, he also said he'll win in part because vaccines will 'soon be on the way.'"
According to people familiar with the White House meetings on the coronavirus, Jared Kushner regularly asks about getting the vaccine by October, and behind the scenes, Trump's campaign staff are calling it "the holy grail."
The FDA chief and Dr. Anthony Fauci stress that they are working to ensure the process isn't impacted by Trump.
"Which illustrates a crucial point here: Even if top officials do have good intentions, what's worrisome is that Trump will almost certainly try to corrupt this whole process in a way that prioritizes his own perceived political needs over the national interest," said Sargent.
It wouldn't be the first time Trump tried something like this, spending January attacking American health officials for trying to warn the public about the virus that he didn't even believe was real until thousands had already died.
"In the end, it's likely that Trump's long trail of deliberate uses of the government to bolster his deceptions, agitprop, and corrupt designs will itself undo any vaccine Hail Mary," closed Sargent. "Even if Trump does manage to rush forward such an announcement, why would voters trust him to carry forward the long and complex process to follow in good faith or out of any meaningful conception of what's in the national interest?"