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Donald Trump lashed out at his own administration’s drug approval regulator, accusing the agency of launching a “political hit job” on him over a coronavirus vaccine.

The US president accused the Food and Drug Administration of making it more difficult to approve a vaccine ahead of the presidential election on November 3, after the agency passed tough new guidelines.

“New FDA Rules make it more difficult for them to speed up vaccines for approval before Election Day. Just another political hit job!” he wrote on Twitter, tagging Stephen Hahn, the man he chose to head the FDA.

The FDA said on Tuesday that it had agreed guidelines which would make it difficult to approve a coronavirus vaccine before the middle of next month. The guidelines include a recommendation that drug developers monitor at least half the volunteers in phase 3 clinical trials for a minimum of two months before submitting an application.

Moderna, one of the leading companies in the race to find a vaccine, has already said it will stick to the guidelines. Other companies have not been as explicit.

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The row is the latest skirmish in a long-running battle between the US president and his own scientific advisers over how to handle the pandemic. That fight has intensified in recent days following the president’s own diagnosis with Covid-19.

Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, lamented the White House’s handling of the crisis.

In an interview with American University’s Kennedy Political Union, Dr Fauci said: “It’s an unfortunate situation when you see something like that because that could have been prevented.”

Mr Trump has also angered many in the medical community and been sanctioned by social media companies for saying coronavirus was less serious than seasonal flu.

Twitter flagged his tweet as “spreading misleading and potentially harmful information about COVID-19” and Facebook removed a similar post. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US’s worst flu season in recent years was in 2017-18, when roughly 61,000 people died. Covid-19 has been blamed for more than 210,000 deaths in the country.

Mr Trump’s latest efforts to minimise the pandemic came as the virus continued to spread through his inner circle and the US leadership. On Tuesday evening, Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to the president and one of his closest aides, said he had tested positive for Covid-19.

Several of the Pentagon’s top officers, including Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, were also quarantining after being exposed to the disease.

Mike Pence, the vice-president, has tested negative for the virus since Mr Trump was diagnosed, Mr Pence’s doctor said.

Despite this, the White House is not contacting people who were at a White House event on September 26 to celebrate Mr Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Many experts think the event may have been the source of many of the recent infections.

In the past few days, Mr Trump has taken a car ride to wave to supporters, returned to the White House via helicopter and recorded a video from his residence without a mask on — all while doctors say he remains infectious.

The president has also pledged to attend an October 15 debate against Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in Miami.

Mr Biden told reporters: “If he still has Covid, we shouldn’t have a debate. I think we’re gonna have to follow very strict guidelines.”

Tom Frieden, the former head of the CDC, said: “There are at least 100,000 dead Americans because of the failure of this administration to control this disease. This episode has reiterated that [Mr Trump] has complete disregard for the safety of people in this country.”

Leana Wen, an emergency doctor and public health professor at George Washington University, said: “How are we supposed to tell our patients to go home and isolate for 10 days when they see the president taking car trips for no good reason at all?”

Doctors say Mr Trump could still suffer an adverse reaction to the illness.

The president’s team hope he can use his experience to his electoral advantage and overturn his significant poll deficit with just four weeks to go until election day. A poll by SSRS, published on Tuesday morning by CNN, showed Mr Biden leading Mr Trump by 16 points nationwide.

Some Republican strategists worry, however, that Mr Trump’s behaviour in the past few days could eliminate any sympathy voters might otherwise have had for his condition.

Brendan Buck, a former adviser to Paul Ryan, the former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said: “It is basic common sense that [Mr Trump] is defying here, and it is difficult to imagine any voters who are not already in the bag for him look at this and think: ‘Here is a person who should be in charge.’”

Additional reporting by Hannah Murphy in San Francisco and Katrina Manson in Washington

Swamp notes

In the countdown to the 2020 election, stay on top of the big campaign issues with our newsletter on US power and politics with columnists Rana Foroohar and Edward Luce. Sign up here



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