Coronavirus pandemic and election-year politics collide, eroding trust in science

The positive development immediately became entangled in election-year politics, with President Trump repeatedly making false and exaggerated claims about the new therapeutics. He called them a cure, which they’re not. He said he was about to approve them — a premature promise given that the FDA’s career scientists are charged with reviewing the applications.

This has been the 2020 pattern: Politics has thoroughly contaminated the scientific process. The result has been an epidemic of distrust, which further undermines the nation’s already chaotic and ineffective response to the coronavirus.

The White House has repeatedly meddled with decisions by career professionals at the FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other science-based agencies. Many of the nation’s leading scientists, including some of the top doctors in the administration, are deeply disturbed by the collision of politics and science and bemoan its effects on public health.

“I’ve never seen anything that closely resembles this. It’s like a pressure cooker,” Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview.

Trust has been damaged by White House intrusions and the FDA’s own mistakes. Earlier this year, the agency granted emergency authorization to hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug wrongly touted by Trump as a treatment for covid-19, then reversed course when it became clear the medication could cause dangerous complications. In August, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn drew sharp criticism for inaccurately describing the benefits of convalescent plasma, statements for which he later apologized.

Millions of Americans have embraced some version of a conspiracy theory that imagines the pandemic as a wildly exaggerated threat, or even an outright hoax, pushed by politically motivated scientists and the mainstream media to undermine the president. This is a form of science denial that leads many people to refuse to wear masks or engage in social distancing.

Scientists, meanwhile, worry that the politicization of the regulatory process could undermine the rollout of a vaccine even if it is approved by career professionals at the FDA. This is shaping up as a communications challenge for the government: Many people will want to know who, exactly, is greenlighting a vaccine.

“If the public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely,” Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), the Democratic nominee for vice president, said in Wednesday’s debate with Vice President Pence. “But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.”

Moments later Pence said it is “unconscionable” for Harris “to undermine public confidence in a vaccine.” He added, “Stop playing politics with people’s lives.”

The scolding by Pence was remarkable given that Trump has repeatedly framed the vaccine effort in terms of the November election — including just hours before Wednesday’s vice-presidential debate, when he came close to accusing his own government’s scientists of trying to delay a vaccine.

“We’re going to have a great vaccine very, very shortly. I think we

Kamala Harris Doesn’t Trust Trump’s Word on Vaccines. She’s Not Alone

Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris questioned Donald Trump’s word on a potential COVID-19 vaccine in Wednesday’s debate, and polling suggests she is not alone in distrusting the president on this point.

Kamala Harris sitting at a table: Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) participates in the vice presidential debate against U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, on October 7, 2020.

© Alex Wong/Getty
Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) participates in the vice presidential debate against U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, on October 7, 2020.

Harris was asked whether she would take a vaccine if one were approved by the Trump administration, during her head-to-head with Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday.

“If the public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it, absolutely,” she said. “But if Donald Trump tells us we should take it, I’m not taking it.”

Pence criticized Harris’ comments and told her: “The fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine, if the vaccine emerges during the Trump administration, I think is unconscionable.”

Watch: Harris Tells Pence ‘Mr. Vice President, I’m Speaking’ When He Interrupts During 2020 Debate



While the Republican pushed back against Harris’ remarks, polling suggests her view reflects public opinion.

In an Axios/Ipsos survey, conducted among 1,075 U.S. adults from September 24 to 27, people were asked how likely they would be to take a first generation COVID-19 vaccine in a range of scenarios.

In a situation in which their doctor said a vaccine was safe, 62 percent said they were likely to take it. Then asked how they would react if Trump said it was safe, 19 percent said they would be likely to take it.

In an ABC News/Ipsos poll, conducted among 528 adults September 18 to 19, most of those asked said they did not trust Trump to confirm the safety and effectiveness of a potential coronavirus vaccine.

Asked how much confidence they had that he could do so, 53 percent said none at all.

An NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll found that a majority of those asked if they trust what Trump has said about a vaccine for the coronavirus, said they did not.

Of 36,551 respondents, asked online from September 7 to 13, 52 percent said they did not trust what Trump had said.

Meanwhile, separate polling has reported a fall in the proportion of people who have said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Trump has long spoken of his push for a vaccine to

Op-Ed: Trust and Tracing | MedPage Today

The fight against COVID-19 requires regaining and maintaining immigrants’ trust in our public health system. The Trump administration’s public charge rule, which empowers the U.S. government to deny green cards to immigrants who receive welfare benefits, could prove to be a public health problem by reducing immigrants’ willingness to engage in contract tracing and testing and trust leaders.

With 70% of immigrants in the labor force serving as essential workers, whether it be as healthcare providers or meatpacking plant workers, immigrants are at greater risk of being exposed to COVID-19. In fact, reports across the country show that migrant farmworker communities face not only higher COVID-19 exposure, but also more damaging effects from the current West Coast wildfires.

This news is concerning as immigrants are more likely to lack health insurance, with 23% of immigrants with legal status and 45% of undocumented immigrants lacking insurance, compared with 8% of citizens.

If this trend wasn’t bad enough, reports have shown that Trump’s public charge rule has made immigrants afraid to seek healthcare. The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that immigrants are disenrolling in healthcare benefit programs like Medicaid. A report from the Chicano Federation shows that this is not a theoretical issue as places like San Diego county struggle to convince community members to share personal information with contact tracers: it is an urgent one, with potentially catastrophic public health implications.

This lack of confidence is exactly why improving immigrants’ trust in the U.S. public health system is an issue of public concern. If immigrants distrust testing and contact tracing programs, there is an increased likelihood that COVID-19 will spread undetected in all communities — hampering states’ abilities to re-open their economies and contain the pandemic.

As individuals in the medical field and the children of immigrants, ensuring that immigrants trust COVID-19 testing and contact tracing programs is medically necessary and deeply personal. This understanding is why we have outlined some immediate policy steps to rebuild immigrants’ trust in public health systems during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • First, the public charge rule should be rescinded. This would ensure that immigrants are not afraid to use the many community clinics that serve people regardless of citizenship status or ability to pay. These clinics are often key resources for necessary testing that must take place. In addition, immigrants wouldn’t withdraw their children from important insurance programs, like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, that provide access to care for low-income children. Furthermore, removing green card penalties for obtaining necessary food and housing assistance programs will increase immigrants’ willingness to access testing and contact tracing programs
  • Second, the federal government should make good on its promise to cover testing fees for all citizens and residents. This is very important as those who lack insurance face exorbitant testing costs. Covering the costs of testing fees will make it more likely that immigrant communities are able to access tests
  • Third, on the state level, public health departments should work with community organizations to share information and emphasize the