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Former FDA chief isn't buying Trump's main rationale for blocking tougher coronavirus vaccine standards

The White House has justified blocking new Food and Drug Administration guidelines for approving a COVID-19 vaccine by claiming "the pharmaceutical industry had objected to the tougher requirements," Politico reports, citing three people with knowledge of the situation. The guidelines are designed to ensure that any approved vaccine is safe and provides protection for more than a few weeks, but they also mean no vaccine will be approved before the Nov. 3 election, spoiling President Trump's frequent promises that a vaccine is imminent.

Citing objections from drugmakers is problematic in itself, given the frequent assertions from the Trump administration that science will be guiding the approval process. "In a normal procedure, the industry wouldn't be talking at all to the White House about this," John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, told Politico. But current and former FDA officials, including recent commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, also say the industry has actually been supportive of the new measures.

"The appearance of political interference in the vaccine authorization process has long worried FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn and other agency officials," Politico reports. But "Trump's fixation on securing a vaccine within weeks has instead left the FDA with little expectation the new standards will ever be officially released, because publicizing the benchmarks would make it clear a vaccine authorization by Election Day is nearly impossible."

"It is abundantly clear Trump's political team is overruling its scientists in order to rush through the approval of a vaccine before the election," and it's equally likely a "clear majority" of voters won't trust any vaccine touted by Trump before Election Day, Jonathan Chait argues at New York. The big question is "will the government be able to develop public trust whenever it does produce what its scientists deem a safe and effective vaccine? We can only hope."