Trump’s tweets are normally Tiff’s domain. I wavered for a while before deciding to post this, but I believe it merits a separate thread. Yesterday, the panel of independent experts that the United States uses to investigate vaccines met. They approached the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in the same way they did the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine: as if the issue were a trial. Points were raised in support of approving the medicine, counterpoints were made against it, and and the end of the meeting the members voted on whether to give the panel’s recommendation. Twenty of the 21 members voted in favor, with one abstaining out of concerns that the authorization request was too broad, that it should have had statements warning for special precautions for high-risk subjects. The Moderna vaccine even brought over some who had declined to support the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, because there wasn’t enough data to justify the 16-year-old limit, just the 18-and-over numbers. The experts on the panel take their jobs very seriously.
The President, less so. Earlier this morning, he tweeted:
The problem is that the authorization yesterday was only one piece of the puzzle for the FDA. It’s the largest piece, but the panel does not have all of the information available – for example, internal fraud reports – and those other items must, as always, be checked for discrepancies. This is one reason that the FDA exists.
Trump is seeking attention and, more importantly for him, credit for the vaccine. He has come under significant attack for the hundreds of thousands of dead Americans due to his intentional mishandling of the COVID-19 response, and he’s now attempting to frame the situation as an attack by China which was rebuffed by Trump and the vaccines. The narrative doesn’t begin to stand up to examination.
First and foremost is the fact that other countries adversarial to China have seen far less destruction and death due to the virus. Even had China created the virus and released it within its own borders in an attempt to cover a spread to its enemies… the line typically used by the conspiracy theorists… a responsible reaction by a free country would have greatly diminished the effectiveness of such an attack. This was demonstrated by South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Accepting a fairly ludicrous premise: that China sent spies to release the infection in the US but only after releasing the disease domestically and attempted to clamp down on that disease being recognized as a new, transmissible item – it wouldn’t provide a modicum of defense of Trump’s fatally incompetent response.
But it’s what he’s attempting. In so doing, he’s illustrating once again why he cannot handle his position and why there are likely to be severe issues with distribution of the vaccines.
Bureaucracy slows processes. Every additional layer of decision-making requires, by definition, a decision to be made and that diminishes a response time. American resiliency has historically been accomplished in large part by cutting through bureaucracy and empowering average people, communities, and even states to make decisions as appropriate. Not only does this mean that the people assessing and addressing problems will be those who are most familiar with the issues but it means that the response will happen quickly. Under Trump, the authority for all decisions has been claimed by the President. Any lesser official may perform their appointed tasks as required, but the President has laid claim to the ability to override them at a moment’s notice. He has directed this imagined authority at private businesses and regularly exercises his uninformed will over any federal or state agency which attracts his attention.
What has resulted is an extra layer of bureaucracy, one which is spurious and may reverse or augment existing policy at a moment’s notice. We are already seeing issues with distribution of existing vaccine; reports have come of some states not receiving their full planned dosages and Pfizer having millions more doses ready whose dispersal the government has failed to coordinate. We can expect many more issues, because even if Trump decides to step away from the spotlight – unlikely, as demonstrated this morning – the looming threat of his involvement will be shading the actions of all within the distribution chain.
The FDA has a process for expedited approval. Had Trump not intervened, the approval was expected to finalize tonight or tomorrow. Now, the authorization will come… tonight or tomorrow. By injecting himself into the discussion, he gains attention but bleeds away precious time and energy from the FDA officials who are seeking to verify the final safety precautions. It is a minor delay today, but representative of what will inevitably be major delays in the overall rollout, because every group associated with the vaccine will be watching over their shoulder for the corpulent bulge of the Trump shadow.