Leaders of science academies sound alarm over political interference

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Two of the most prominent science advisory groups on Thursday issued a warning about the consequences of political interference in science.

The leaders of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) in a joint statement said the reports about political meddling in science and public health are “alarming.”

“We find ongoing reports and incidents of the politicization of science, particularly the overriding of evidence and advice from public health officials and derision of government scientists, to be alarming,” NAM president Victor Dzau and NAS president Marcia McNutt said. 

“It undermines the credibility of public health agencies and the public’s confidence in them when we need it most,” they added.

The statement comes one day after President Trump said he might reject a plan from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to impose tougher standards for the authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Trump told reporters during a White House briefing Wednesday the possibility of such a move from the FDA was likely “political,” without offering any evidence. 

“That has to be approved by the White House. We may or may not approve it. That sounds like a political move,” Trump said. 

The new FDA guidance will reportedly call for a median of two months of data on the participants in vaccine clinical trials in order to ensure there is enough time to assess the safety of the vaccine candidates. 

The aim of the guidance would be to increase public trust and transparency in the vaccine process, and would make it almost impossible for a vaccine to be cleared for distribution before Election Day. 

Trump has insisted that the U.S. could have a safe and effective vaccine ready by the end of October, despite multiple health officials saying that timeline is incredibly unlikely.

Trump has repeatedly contradicted senior health officials throughout the pandemic and has pressured agencies to promote controversial treatments to COVID-19. 

In addition, other administration officials pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stop recommending COVID-19 testing for people who have been exposed to the virus but were asymptomatic. The change was eventually reversed.

The attacks from political appointees on scientists has taken a toll on the public. 

Americans are growing skeptical over the politicization of a vaccine for the virus. Polls show increasing numbers of Americans say they do not have confidence in the vaccine development process because of political interference. 

Dzau and McNutt, who lead the non-governmental bodies, said trusting science-based decisions is key.

“Our nation is at a critical time in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic with important decisions ahead of us, especially concerning the efficacy and safety of vaccines,” Dzau and McNutt said. “Ending the pandemic will require decision-making that is not only based on science, but also sufficiently transparent to ensure public trust in, and adherence to, sound public-health instructions. Any efforts to discredit the best science and scientists threaten the health and welfare of us all.”

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic COVID-19 vaccine Donald Trump FDA political Interference Politicization of science U.S. federal government response to the COVID-19 pandemic
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