The vaccine cannot be out before its required time
Do me a favor, speed it up, speed it up.” this is often what U.S. President Donald Trump told the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference, recounting what he said to pharmaceutical executives about the progress toward a vaccine for severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Anthony Fauci, the long-time leader of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been telling the president repeatedly that developing the vaccine will take a minimum of a year and a half—the same message conveyed by pharmaceutical executives. Apparently, Trump thought that simply repeating his request would change the result. China has rightfully taken criticism for squelching attempts by scientists to report information during the outbreak. Now, the US government is doing similar things.
Informing Fauci and other government scientists that they need to clear all public comments with vice-chairman Mike Pence is unacceptable. this is often not a time for somebody who denies evolution, global climate change, and therefore the dangers of smoking to shape the general public message. Thank goodness Fauci, Francis Collins [director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH)], and their colleagues across federal agencies are willing to soldier on and are gradually getting the message out.
While scientists try to share facts about the epidemic, the administration either blocks those facts or restates them with contradictions. Transmission rates and death rates aren’t measurements which will be changed with a will and an extroverted presentation. The administration has repeatedly said—as it did last week—that virus spread within the US is contained, when it’s clear from genomic evidence that community spread is happening in Washington state and beyond. that sort of distortion and denial is dangerous and almost certainly contributed to the federal government’s sluggish response. After 3 years of debating whether the words of this administration matter, the words are now clearly a matter of life and death.
And although the steps required to supply a vaccine could possibly be made more efficient, many of them depend upon biological and chemical processes that are essential. therefore the president might even as well have said, “Do me a favor, hurry up that warp drive.”
I don’t expect politicians to understand Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism or the Diels-Alder reaction (although I can dream). But you can’t insult science once you don’t love it then suddenly enforce something that science can’t give on demand. For the past 4 years, President Trump’s budgets have made deep cuts to science, including cuts to funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and therefore the NIH. With this administration’s disregard for the science of the Environmental Protection Agency and therefore the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and therefore the stalled naming of a director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy—all to support political goals—the nation has had nearly 4 years of harming and ignoring science.
Now, the president suddenly needs science. But the centuries spent elucidating fundamental principles that govern the natural world—evolution, gravity, quantum mechanics—involved laying the groundwork for knowing what we will and can’t do. The ways in which scientists accumulate and analyze evidence, apply generalization, and subject findings to scrutiny by peers are proven over the years to offer rise to robust knowledge. These processes are being applied to the COVID-19 crisis through international collaboration at breakneck, unprecedented speed; Science published two new papers earlier this month on SARS-CoV-2, and more are on the way. But equivalent concepts that are wont to describe nature are wont to create new tools. So, posing for a vaccine and distorting the science at an equivalent time is shockingly dissonant.
A vaccine has got to have a fundamental scientific basis. it’s to be manufacturable. it’s to be safe. this might take a year and a half—or for much longer. Pharmaceutical executives have every incentive to urge there quickly— they’re going to be selling the vaccine after all—but thankfully they also know that you simply can’t break the laws of nature to urge there.
Maybe we should always be happy. Three years ago, the president declared his skepticism of vaccines and tried to launch an antivaccine task force. Now he suddenly loves vaccines.
But do us a favor, Mr. President. If you would like something, start treating science and its principles with respect.