President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, have accused each other of politicising a Covid-19 vaccine, threatening to undermine the public confidence that is required to ensure enough people take the inoculation when it is available.
In a Labor Day press briefing at the White House, Mr Trump said it would be “dangerous” for the US if people listened to concerns raised by Mr Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, about a potential coronavirus vaccine.
“Biden and his very liberal running mate . . . would destroy this country and would destroy this economy. [They] should immediately apologise for the reckless anti-vaccine rhetoric. They are . . . endangering lives and it undermines science,” he said.
Ms Harris, a Democratic senator from California, told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that she would not take the president’s word alone that a Covid-19 vaccine was safe, effective and ready for use by the public.
“I would not trust Donald Trump, and it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about,” Ms Harris told CNN.
Mr Trump said he had recently spoken to the chief executives of J&J and Pfizer, pharmaceutical companies developing Covid-19 vaccines, and suggested that a vaccine could be ready by October, ahead of the November 3 presidential election.
“What they’re saying is ‘Oh, wow this is bad news, President Trump is getting this vaccine in record time’. By the way, if this were the Obama administration, you wouldn’t have that vaccine for three years and you probably wouldn’t have it at all,” he said. “So we’re going to have a vaccine very soon, maybe even before a very special day.”
Earlier in the day, Mr Biden, who was campaigning in Pennsylvania, said he will take the advice of scientists on whether to get a Covid-19 vaccine. When asked if he would trust Anthony Fauci, one of the top doctors on the White House coronavirus task force, and the Food and Drug Administration, he said he would want “full transparency”.
Mr Biden has previously accused Mr Trump of “undermining public confidence” and “playing politics” with the prospects of a vaccine in order to boost his campaign.
The US response to the coronavirus pandemic has been politically fraught with battles over testing, masks, and drugs such as hydroxychloroquine. A successful vaccine is seen as vital to fully reopening the economy without risking another wave of infections.
For a vaccine to be successful, enough people must take it to create immunity to Covid-19 in the population. Public health experts are concerned that more people may join an existing anti-vaccine — or ‘anti-vaxx’ — movement if there are concerns that the speed at which the vaccine is approved means it is not safe or effective. Recent surveys show between a quarter and a third of Americans would not take a vaccine.
The fight comes after top US health officials indicated they were preparing for an early approval of a vaccine. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has asked states to approve applications for vaccine distribution centres by November.
Stephen Hahn, the FDA commissioner, told the Financial Times that he was willing to fast track a vaccine, by giving it an emergency use authorisation, but would not do so to please Mr Trump.