During an appearance on Fox & Friends Tuesday morning, President Trump claimed a vaccine for COVID-19 could be approved “in a matter of weeks.”
“I’m not doing it for political reasons, I want the vaccine fast,” Trump said. “You wouldn’t have a vaccine for years … I speeded up the process with the FDA… We’re going to have a vaccine in a matter of weeks, it could be four weeks it could be eight weeks … we have a lot of great companies.”
I winced the first time Trump started talking about a vaccine timeline. This goes beyond Trump simply being optimistic for the sake of the country. I’m all for being optimistic, the people need hope, but the better play was to be optimistic and vague when it came to coming through on the vaccine. The moment he started talking about a vaccine and a timeline it was politicized by the left. “Trump’s gonna rush a vaccine to save his election!” they inevitably accused.
But President Trump’s bigger risk isn’t the politicization of the coronavirus vaccine, it’s the likelihood of not delivering on the timeline. There are lots of diseases that, while treatable, still don’t have vaccines. Promising or predicting a vaccine just around the corner is a risky gamble that could backfire on Trump, should a vaccine not come before the election. Both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have raised doubts about the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine that might come out before the election, but their rhetoric will quickly evolve to paint the lack of a vaccine before the election as “yet another one of Trump’s failures” in handling the coronavirus. It’s hardly a stretch to suggest that Trump’s reelection could hinge on the availability of a vaccine before the election.
In the early summer of 2009, the Obama-Biden administration predicted it would have 160 million H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine doses by late October. They actually ended up with less than thirty million. This failure led to public outcry and congressional investigations.
This Obama-Biden administration failure undoubtedly cost lives. A study by Purdue University scholars published on October 15, 2009, determined that the H1N1 vaccine would arrive “too late to help most Americans who will be infected during this flu season.” The study determined that the CDC’s planned vaccination campaign would “likely not have a large effect on the total number of people ultimately infected by the pandemic H1N1 influenza virus.”
The vaccine shortage was caused by delays in the vaccine manufacturing process and raised major questions about the government’s response to the pandemic, and the H1N1 virus would go on to infect nearly 61 million Americans. Ron Klain, who was Biden’s chief of staff at the time and is currently advising his campaign, says it was mere luck that H1N1 wasn’t more deadly.
“It is purely a fortuity that this isn’t one of the great mass casualty events in American history,” Klain said of H1N1 in 2019. “It had nothing to do with us doing anything right. It just had to do with luck. If anyone thinks that this can’t happen again, they don’t have to go back to 1918, they just have to go back to 2009, 2010, and imagine a virus with a different lethality, and you can just do the math on that.”
I hope Trump is right that a vaccine is coming as soon as a few weeks, but if no vaccine is approved before the election, he will have set himself up for taking the blame for it.
Matt Margolis is the author of the new book Airborne: How The Liberal Media Weaponized The Coronavirus Against Donald Trump, and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis