Trump was saved by the science he dismisses

Trump was saved by the science he dismisses
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After returning to the White House, a COVID-19 super-spreader site, from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the president removed his mask with bravado to robustly proclaim that he had conquered COVID-19. A “Trump defeats COVID” commemorative coin is now available at a White House-themed gift shop. Despite the rosy daily descriptions of the president’s condition, it is clear that he had a serious SARS-CoV-2 infection. 

President TrumpDonald TrumpWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Poll: 30 percent of GOP voters believe Trump will 'likely' be reinstated this year Black Secret Service agent told Trump it was offensive to hold rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth: report MORE hopes we will believe his bout with COVID-19 was no big deal, saying “maybe I’m immune” and “Remember this: when you catch it, you get better” While he wants to claim victory, his cavalier dismissal of COVID-19 denigrates 216,000 American lives lost during the first seven months of the pandemic. Does Trump consider those who die of COVID-19, like soldiers lost in battle, to be losers?

The president may have been spared severe disease and possible death by administration of expensive and experimental monoclonal antibodies directed against the spike protein (S) on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The antibodies attach to the S protein and block the virus from infecting cells. 


And let’s make it clear, these monoclonal antibodies didn’t appear miraculously. They are a result of 70 or more years of detailed scientific research by hundreds of dedicated scientists — immunologists, cell biologists, molecular biologists, cancer biologists and virologists. These scientists discovered: how cells and genetics work, how the immune system works, how antibodies work, how to produce monoclonal antibodies, how viruses infect cells and the structure and function of the SARS-CoV-2 S-protein so that targeted monoclonals could be designed when SARS-Cov-2 emerged less than a year ago. 

A similar trail of basic scientific discoveries lay the foundation for the development of Remdesivir, the anti-viral, and dexamethasone, the immune suppressant, administered to Trump.

Years and years of dedicated research were essential to bring our knowledge to the point where these treatments could be developed. That is how science progresses: the growth of knowledge is essentially one interconnected trail of experiments and discoveries, one after another building upon themselves over time, that goes all the way back to the woman who discovered how to use fire. 

But science, scientific facts and scientists are disdained by the president who undermines and denies science at every opportunity. So, it is ironic that it was good, solid science that produced the aggressive treatments that maintained the president through COVID-19. These treatments are not yet widely available to most other Americans. 

Yet the president acts as if his experience with COVID-19 makes him a paradigm of serious COVID-19 disease. He touts his recovery as evidence that we can now “live with it”. However, COVID cases continue to increase in the U.S. by 60,000 cases per day and 1,500 of these new infections may result in death. These Americans will not have ready access to the frontiers of scientific achievement that saved the president.


The president has returned to comparing COVID-19 to influenza, claiming that as many as 100,000 people die each year from flu and we don’t shut down the country for that. According to the CDC’s website, in the last 10 years, the average annual number of deaths due to flu has been 36,000. By comparison, in just 7 months, COVID-19 has killed 216,000, almost six times the average annual deaths by influenza, and we have not yet seen a full year of COVID-19 deaths. As has been stated many times by scientific and medical experts, COVID-19 poses a greater threat than influenza.

There is a vaccine for influenza, which undoubtedly contributes to the lower death rate. But due to apathy, lack of knowledge or vaccine hesitancy, only about 50 percent of the total population get the vaccine. Due to the president’s misinformation about COVID-19 and worries about a hastily approved COVID-19 vaccine, it is estimated that only 50 percent of the population will take a COVID-19 vaccine. Thus, the president’s anti-science rhetoric will suppress vaccination and, alarmingly, increase vaccine hesitancy, which will prolong the pandemic. In an unprecedented move to counter vaccine safety concerns, pharmaceutical companies have issued a pledge to not release a COVID-19 vaccine for approval until it meets all safety standards.

The anti-science attitudes which fostered the administration’s lack of response to the pandemic has exposed a problem with our Federalist system. When central leadership on a critical national problem is devolved to the states, the uncoordinated and disparate responses reveal that there is little United among the States. Thus it is left to We the People to take action using masks, distancing and hand washing. This does work! 

The president was saved by advanced, aggressive and scientifically-sound treatments that are not available to the rest of us. We cannot be swayed by the president’s anti-science rhetoric and diversions from COVID-19. We cannot become complacent to the risks posed by COVID-19. 

James Alwine is a virologist and a fellow of the American Academy for Microbiology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania and a visiting professor at the University of Arizona. Felicia Goodrum Sterling is a virologist and a fellow of the American Academy for Microbiology. She is a professor and scientist at the University of Arizona. The authors' views are their own and not representative of the University of Arizona or the University of Pennsylvania.