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OPINION: Maine needs to independently review any COVID-19 vaccine

October 30, 2020

This piece represents the opinion of the author.
Aadhya Ramineni

If we have learned one thing over the past several months, it is that the Trump administration cannot be trusted in regards to COVID-19. From downplaying the danger and airborne nature of the virus to promoting an unproven steroid treatment despite warnings from health officials about its lack of efficacy, the President has persistently spewed disinformation about the global pandemic. Thus, when it comes to vaccine distribution, why should we trust him?

It’s one thing if Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and leading U.S. health official in combatting the pandemic, vouches for the effectiveness of a vaccine. Fauci has consistently stood on the grounds of science and made his recommendations based on what will be best for the health of the American people. But there are going to be a number of vaccine candidates hoping to be approved and distributed by the government, and it will be difficult for health officials to distinguish which are the most effective and accessible. Given President Trump’s history of using his office for personal and political interests (there were rumors of a distant personal connection between Trump and Sanofi, the French company that produces hydroxychloroquine), it cannot be assumed that his choice of vaccine will be the one with the most scientific backing. He is almost certainly going to be influenced by other factors, including nationalism, the stock market, politics and his wealthy connections. Any vaccine that Trump chooses to boast over the others, regardless of its relative efficacy, must be taken with a grain of salt, especially given the unprecedented speed with which these vaccines are being developed.

This is why states including California, Oregon, New York, Nevada and Washington have committed to independently reviewing any FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine prior to distribution and why Maine ought to do the same. These states understand that the Trump administration cannot be trusted outright in their presentation of a vaccination for the coronavirus—Trump has turned a scientific process into a political one, and he is motivated by much more than simply saving lives and helping the American people. Governor Janet Mills and her health officials have an obligation to ensure the safety and effectiveness of any vaccine touted by Trump before distributing it to the people of Maine.

It’s important to note that an independent vaccine review would be unlikely to slow down the distribution process. Maine would not be running its own clinical trials of a vaccine but rather would independently review the data gathered from the already-completed clinical trials. This is a relatively small but worthwhile step in ensuring the distribution of a vaccine that will not cause harm and is truly empirically backed. It has to be shown that Trump’s vaccine of choice is safe and likely to work, regardless of the political or personal nature of his decision.

This would also likely increase public trust in a vaccine, which would hopefully lead to more people getting vaccinated upon availability. While Maine does have a wide range of political attitudes, there is no denying the impressiveness of Maine’s pandemic response relative to the rest of the country. The Maine government and its health officials have earned the trust of most Mainers. A vaccine that is approved by the Trump administration, federal health officials and the Maine state government would give residents on all ends of the political spectrum not just trust in a vaccine, but encouragement to take it. Assuming a Trump-endorsed vaccine is shown to be safe and effective in an independent review, Trump supporters, vehement anti-Trumpers and everyone else in between will have been told by an elected official whom they trust that the vaccine is safe and effective. Hopefully, this will encourage all Maine residents to get their vaccines upon its widespread distribution.

It has become clear that this pandemic is far from over. Numbers of cases are rising everywhere, including in Maine, which has earned the reputation of having the best pandemic response in the country. At this stage, we will likely not see major improvement until a vaccine can be widely distributed. It’s important to remember that despite this fact, it is absolutely essential that a vaccine be proven safe and likely to be effective before it is distributed to the masses. We know that Donald Trump cannot just be trusted when it comes to anything related to COVID-19. For the sake of ensuring safety and effectiveness, and to potentially increase public trust in a vaccine, the state must independently review any Trump-approved coronavirus vaccine before distributing it to the people of Maine.

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