Trump administration may rush vaccine
The U.S. surpassed 6 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and 185,000 deaths this week as new outbreaks erupted on college campuses and the virus moved further into rural areas. Some states are making progress against the disease: The country registered 34,000 new cases on Monday, the lowest single-day total in more than two months, and coronavirus hospitalizations have dropped by 45 to 78 percent in California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona from their July peaks. But cases climbed in 32 states, particularly the Dakotas, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa, which—despite having the higher number of cases per capita—will allow 25,000 football fans to attend Iowa State’s opening game next week. The start of college may be sparking new hot spots, with the University of Alabama reporting more than 1,300 Covid-19 cases since classes started in mid-August. The virus is like a “rolling fire,” said Amesh Adalja of Johns Hopkins University, “with certain flare-ups that occur in different parts of the country.”
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said he was prepared to grant fast-track authorization for a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as October—even before mass clinical trials are complete, so long as the benefits of doing so outweigh the risks. Hahn said President Trump had not pressured him to approve a vaccine before the Nov. 3 election. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control told state public health officials to prepare to distribute a vaccine to high-risk groups by Nov. 1. The CDC drew criticism from health professionals last week after it abruptly reversed its Covid-19 testing guidelines to say that people who had been in close contact with an infected person “do not necessarily need” a test if they show no symptoms.
What the editorials said
Trump has a “new pandemic adviser,” said the Los Angeles Times, and he’s offering some dangerous advice. Scott Atlas, a radiologist with no background in infectious diseases, was spotted by Trump on Fox News and is now helping steer White House policy. Atlas wants the U.S. to adopt Sweden’s “morally reprehensible” herd immunity strategy. Never mind that letting 65 percent of the population get infected to reach herd immunity may result in millions of deaths. “We hate to be the bearer of good news,” said The Wall Street Journal, but the U.S. is doing well in the fight against the pandemic. Although cases are rising in the Midwest, “the flare-ups so far are well below the spring Northeast debacle or the surge in the South and West.” States are getting better at protecting the elderly, and treatments are improving. Our goal now should be to “mitigate the virus’ damage” while reopening businesses and schools, “allowing Americans to return to some semblance of normalcy.”
What the columnists said
The CDC’s new testing guidelines make no sense, said Faye Flam in Bloomberg.com. Some 40 percent of people infected with Covid-19 are asymptomatic, but they can still spread the disease to others. Rather than discouraging testing, the government should be advocating for mass testing so “the small fraction of people who actually have an active infection” can be quarantined while the rest of us regain our freedom. Discouraging testing only makes sense if your goal is to undercount cases. Whom might that benefit?
Multiple news outlets reported last week that the CDC changed its testing guidelines “under pressure from the administration,” said Megan McArdle in The Washington Post. But political interference won’t stop the growing availability of fast, reliable Covid-19 tests. Abbott Labs has won approval for a test that “costs $5, returns an answer in 15 minutes, requires no specialized equipment, and can be produced in bulk.” You might soon be able to “stop at a drive-through testing center,” get a result in under half an hour, then arrive at a dinner party with a “negative” certificate in hand.
As eager as Americans are for a vaccine, history shows why fast-tracking one could be catastrophic, said Jen Christensen in CNN.com. In 1955, the government gave the first polio vaccine to 200,000 children; 40,000 kids contracted polio and some 10 died. An unsafe Covid-19 vaccine would light a fire under the anti-vaxxer movement. “All it takes is one bad side effect to basically botch a vaccine program that we desperately need,” said University of Michigan professor Howard Markel. “It’s a prescription for disaster.” ■