WASHINGTON — Sen. Kamala Harris of California made clear Wednesday that President Trump’s word, alone, would not be enough to earn her trust in the safety and effectiveness of a future Covid-19 vaccine.
Vice President Mike Pence’s quick retort implored her to “please stop undermining confidence in a vaccine.”
Harris’ statement, which came during the only vice presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle, underscores the central role that Covid-19 vaccine development has played on the 2020 campaign trail.
“If public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it, absolutely,” she said. “But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.”
Harris and the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, have criticized Trump for months for rhetoric that undermines government scientists and, they argue, has damaged public trust in an eventual vaccine. Biden has backed Harris’ stance on the Trump administration’s vaccine development process, outlining several transparency thresholds that the campaign would require before endorsing use of a Covid-19 vaccine.
For months, President Trump has pledged an imminent vaccine approval, openly acknowledging he’s seeking one by Election Day on Nov. 3.
In response, Pence stopped short of echoing the Trump campaign’s prior accusation that Harris’ stance makes her an “anti-vaxxer,” but he called her stance “unconscionable.”
His retort highlights a fundamental challenge for Democrats: calling attention to the Trump administration’s politicization of the vaccine approval process without risking further damage to Americans’ trust in immunizations, regardless of when they’re approved.
Despite months of hints, Trump on Wednesday acknowledged for the first time that a vaccine authorization likely wouldn’t come until after Election Day. In a video posted to Twitter, he alleged baselessly that drug companies or the Food and Drug Administration were slowing the process for political reasons.
A recent STAT/Harris poll showed that 78% of Americans view the federal vaccine development process as motivated more by politics than by science.