Thursday, February 27, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He took swift and decisive action to prevent government scientists from talking about coronavirus.

Last night, Trump went on live TV to discuss the government's response to COVID-19. There were a number of bizarre twists in his remarks, which took nearly an hour. He repeatedly insisted there were only 15 cases in the United States, while there were at least 60 known. He contradicted the CDC, saying that the spread of the virus was not "inevitable." He announced Mike Pence would now lead a new task force, something that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar hadn't known until right before the announcement. (Pence was replaced in that role less than a day later.) He compared COVID-19, which kills about 3% of the people it infects, with the flu, which is less contagious and far less fatal. He attacked Nancy Pelosi's handling of the outbreak as "incompetent," apparently forgetting that handling the outbreak is his job. 

Perhaps most notably, Trump enthusiastically rambled about a proposed vaccine, something he'd mentioned earlier in the week as possibly being available within a few months. (He was confusing COVID-19 with Ebola.) This was what he said Wednesday:

TRUMP: We’re rapidly developing a vaccine, and they can speak to you — the professionals can speak to you about that.  The vaccine is coming along well.  And in speaking to the doctors, we think this is something that we can develop fairly rapidly, a vaccine for the future.

Minutes later, Dr. Anthony Fauci—a revered figure in the public health profession—was forced to contradict Trump on the timetable.

FAUCI: Just a very quick update on the countermeasure development in the form of vaccines and therapeutics.  I had told this audience at a recent press briefing that we have a number of vaccine candidates and one prototype, to give you a feel for the timeframe of a vaccine and what its impact might be now and in subsequent years — is that I told you we would have a vaccine that we would be putting into trials, to see if it’s safe and if it induces a response that you would predict would be protective in about three months. 
I think it’s going to be a little bit less than that.  It’s probably going to be closer to two months.  That would then take about three months to determine if it’s safe and immunogenic, which gives us six months.  Then you graduate from a trial — which is phase one — of 45 people, to a trial that involves hundreds if not low thousands of people to determine efficacy.  At the earliest, an efficacy trial would take an additional six to eight months. 
So although this is the fastest we have ever gone from a sequence of a virus to a trial, it still would not be any applicable to the epidemic unless we really wait about a year to a year and a half
Now, that means two things.  One, the answer to containing is public health measures.  We can’t rely on a vaccine over the next several months to a year. 

Today, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration is now demanding that public health officials clear all public statements about COVID-19 with Pence's office. Dr. Fauci confirmed that he had been ordered not to speak to the media without permission.

It was also reported today that the Trump administration has attempted to silence a whistleblower within the HHS department, who revealed that quarantined patients returning to the United States from China were met by untrained workers who were given no protective gear that would help limit the transmission of the virus. The employee who reported this says she was reassigned as punishment for reporting this within HHS.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • The health and safety of the American public is more important than the president's political messaging.
  • There is no good reason to keep experts from sharing accurate and useful information during a crisis.