Harris, Pence spar over COVID-19 vaccine

Harris, Pence spar over COVID-19 vaccine
© NBC News

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisPoll: Biden's job approval gains two points Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run MORE said during her Wednesday debate with Vice President Pence she would be "first in line" for a COVID-19 vaccine if public health officials said it was safe, but not if that guarantee came from President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel faces double-edged sword with Alex Jones, Roger Stone Trump goes after Woodward, Costa over China Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves MORE.

"If Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I'll be the first in line to take it," the California senator said in response to moderator Susan Page. "If Donald Trump tells us to take it, I'm not taking it."

Trump has repeatedly pledged that a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready before the election next month, contrary to what experts, public health officials and the pharmaceutical companies themselves have said.

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Page referenced polling that shows Americans are increasingly losing confidence in the vaccine development process because of fears of political interference.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in September found 6 in 10 adults are worried the Food and Drug Administration will rush to approve a vaccine due to political pressure, and a similar ABC News-Ipsos poll found 69 percent don't have confidence in Trump’s vouching for the safety of a vaccine.

Vaccine development has become a major issue in the presidential campaign.

Harris and Democratic presidential candidate Joe BidenJoe BidenSouth Africa health minister calls travel bans over new COVID variant 'unjustified' Biden attends tree lighting ceremony after day out in Nantucket Senior US diplomat visiting Southeast Asia to 'reaffirm' relations MORE have attacked Trump for months about his comments, slamming him for politicizing the vaccine development process. 

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

While the Trump campaign has accused Biden and Harris of spreading "anti-vaccine conspiracy theories," Pence stopped short of doing so. But he said Harris was the one undermining confidence in public health.

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"Stop playing politics with people's lives," Pence said. "Your continuous undermining of confidence in a vaccine is unacceptable."

Pence also seemingly tried to defend Trump's Rose Garden event announcing the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, which has emerged as a possible "superspreader" event after dozens of administration officials, including the president, have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days. 

"There's been a lot of speculation ... it was an outdoor event," Pence said, adding that the administration trusts the American people to make their own health decisions.