Of course they did. The Washington Post is reporting that a report from a House panel investigating the botched response to the pandemic has already turned up some extremely alarming facts. Facts like how Donald Trump pressured the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to skip safety tests so that vaccines could roll out before Election Day. And how both Trump and now-Senate candidate Mehmet Oz pushed the agency to promote drugs that did not work.
Staffers at the FDA tried to point out that not only would cutting back on phase III testing violate the agency’s rules and possibly result in distributing an unsafe product, it could also lead to exactly the kind of public distrust in vaccines that was already spreading among Republicans. And, for once, the public would have had a good reason.
Former FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn also tried to point out something else: None of this would be secret. The process by which vaccines go through phase I, phase II, and phase III testing is highly consistent. The manufacturers had already made information on the initial rounds public, and it was already known when the final phase would be complete. If the FDA had moved faster, they either would been forced to line up their panel of experts and ask them to approve medication for which the results were not yet in, or simply overturn all their processes. Either way, it would have been “obviously reported, and would further reduce vaccine confidence.”
The pressure campaign from Trump came as he and his allies were already spreading rumors and accusations about figures like National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Anthony Fauci. Officials inside the FDA complained that Trump’s attacks on the agency and scientists left “lingering scars” and punched holes in not only trust for the vaccines, but in public health officials at every level.
Trump also mocked the FDA’s vaccine guidance when it was first published in briefing documents for the agency’s outside advisers. That public ridicule went a long way toward cutting confidence in the agency just before vaccines made their appearance.
“These assaults on our nation’s public health institutions undermined the nation’s coronavirus response, “ said Rep. James Clyburn, “and are precisely why we must never again settle for leaders who prioritize politics over keeping Americans safe.”
When Trump was not pushing the FDA to ignore safety rules or making attacks on agencies and individuals, he played another important role: trying to make the FDA approve drugs that were not proven to work, in particular the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine.
With Trump acting as the central promoter, FDA officials were “inundated” with demands to make the drug available. That included messages and public statements from Oz, who “called for patients to immediately begin receiving the treatment.”
Oz also wrote to Jared Kushner. “We have a potential pandemic solution at our finger tips,” while pushing an unverified report that the drug had left “100% of trial patients free of virus” in a French clinic. Oz called for distribution of hydroxychloroquine to be a “national priority,”
White House adviser Peter Navarro went even further: He worked with a Michigan-based hospital group to create more pressure for the drug in hopes of pushing the FDA into authorizing more extensive use.
In the face of this pressure, the FDA actually issued an emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine at the end of March, but withdrew it just three months later when evidence poured in that the treatment was both ineffective and high levels, the administration of the drug generated a potential risk of heart damage.
Trump supporters, including Navarro and his deputy Steven Hatfill, worked to generate anger over the agency’s reversal and bragged about how they were generating problems for the FDA.
“FDA decided it will not renew the EUA for hydroxy,” wrote Hatfill in an email. “That’s OK because it was already arranged for Hahn to be pulled into Senator Johnson’s Committee to answer some questions. The Senator is pissed off and I wrote the questions so it should be a good s---show.”
Navarro is continuing to push lies about hydroxychloroquine, calling it “a safe and powerful therapeutic to treat COVID” in spite of all evidence that it is utterly ineffective. Oz is also continuing to defend his push for what he called “a potential pandemic solution.”
This is just the first step in investigating how a nation with so many resources and options failed so utterly in response to a deadly pandemic. But we already have two clear answers: One is Trump. The other is his associates.
Donate now to strengthen our majority in the Senate!