Trump vaccine official: ‘I would resign instantly’ if pressured politically
The chief scientist of the Trump administration’s effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine said in a new interview that he would “resign instantly” if he was forced to inappropriately accelerate a vaccine for political reasons.
“The data will dictate, the facts will dictate,” Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientist for the administration’s Operation Warp Speed, said in an appearance on a podcast hosted by the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday.
“We may have the endpoint in October. We may have it on Nov. 4, who knows? We may have it on Dec. 15. That’s the answer, and to be honest, on a personal basis, I would resign instantly if I was forced to do something that I thought would be inappropriate.”
The statement comes as Democrats and health experts have raised concerns about the politicization of the vaccine approval process and whether President Trump would apply pressure to approve a vaccine before the election on Nov. 3.
Trump added fuel to the fire on the issue on Thursday when he said on Geraldo Rivera’s radio show that he thinks it is possible to have a vaccine by around the election.
“I think in some cases, yes, possible before, but right around that time,” Trump said.
“I’m rushing it. I am. I’m pushing everybody,” Trump added, though he said he is not doing it because of the election, but because “I want to save a lot of lives.”
In addition to Slaoui’s assurances, the Food and Drug Administration, which will have to approve any vaccine, has also been seeking to offer reassurances that any approval would be free from political pressure.
“The physician leadership of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (including the authors of this Viewpoint) unequivocally state that candidate COVID-19 vaccines will be reviewed according to the established legal and regulatory standards for medical products,” three top FDA officials, including Commissioner Stephen Hahn, wrote in a journal article on Friday.
The officials have also committed to the discussion of the vaccine at an advisory committee of experts before approval.
“Given the widespread potential use of a COVID-19 vaccine, transparent discussion at FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will be needed prior to vaccine authorization or licensure to ensure clear public understanding of the evidence supporting vaccine safety and efficacy,” the FDA officials wrote.
Rachel Sachs, a health policy expert at Washington University in St. Louis, noted the commitment but added “it is not clear what the advisory committee will be asked to do or discuss,” saying “there is room for the agency to be clearer.”
As for the timeline, Slaoui said he hoped to have enough doses of vaccine “in the first two months of 2021” to vaccinate “at-risk populations in the US.”
“I’m talking about maybe the 30 to 40 million most susceptible people in the U.S. across maybe December, January, February,” he said.
Slaoui has also faced questions from watchdog groups and Democrats about his financial holdings given his previous work in the pharmaceutical industry. He noted on the AEI podcast that he had divested his shares in Moderna, one of the companies developing a vaccine, but on his shares in his former employer GSK, he said “that’s my retirement.”
He said he was not acting in his current role out of any conflict of interest. “I know my values, I know my ethics,” he said.
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