If there’s anything presidential tickets fear, it’s the possibility of an “October surprise” — an event that will fundamentally alter the political equation before the November election.
So it is hardly surprising the current Democratic ticket, which is counting on the dismal condition of a country still suffering from coronavirus restrictions and the collapse a previously booming economy to carry them to victory in November, would worry about any development that would ease the nation’s suffering.
The possibility that a vaccine for COVID-19 could be ready for public consumption before Election Day would qualify as perhaps the most important October surprise in political history. But you would think Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris would be circumspect about rooting against a vaccine that the nation and the world desperately need as soon as possible.
But in a contest that feels a lot more like a civil war, Democrats believe nothing associated with President Donald Trump can be countenanced, let alone supported in the name of patriotism or even a shared sense of humanity. So it was hardly surprising that, when asked whether she would take such a vaccine, Harris made it clear that she wouldn’t trust one if it was presented by the administration.
During a fawning interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, Harris was fed a leading question about whether “public health experts would get the last word about the efficacy of a vaccine.” Her response was exactly what her questioner was looking for: a statement that nothing announced by Trump could be trusted. “I think that’s going to be an issue for all of us. I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump,” Harris said. “I will not take his word for it.”
Although she qualified her answer by saying she would trust one that came from a “credible source of information,” since she stated upfront that any theoretical skeptics about the product would be “suppressed,” Harris was signaling that any such medicine produced before her party took power would be the tainted product of a corrupt process.
After she was attacked for this stance, his handlers trotted out Biden to sound a more conciliatory note. But even though he said he would “take a vaccine tomorrow,” Biden also qualified his stance so much he rendered it meaningless. Rather than express faith in the government science experts that Democratic critics of Trump have elevated to godlike oracles who must be obeyed when they demanded crushing lockdowns of the economy, Biden also sounded a skeptical note about wanting “full transparency” about a vaccine.
Biden’s voters got the message: don’t trust anything — even a life-saving, economy-saving vaccine — if it happens on Trump’s watch.
Even though there is no evidence that a Democratic administration would have handled the crisis differently, it is the Biden campaign party line that it was Trump’s incompetent management of the pandemic and not the actions of the Chinese Communist Party that devastated the nation. As the man in charge, Trump must shoulder the blame for the suffering Americans have endured.
But the president has poured considerable resources and energy into streamlining the vaccine approval process to get one out to a country that is desperate for a way to end the restrictions that are strangling the nation’s economic, cultural, and social life. That means he would also deserve some credit when and if it is ready for public consumption.
But by preemptively casting doubt on the efficacy of such a vaccine, Biden and Harris seek to inoculate Democrats from the impact of a Trump vaccine announcement. Since they benefit from coronavirus misery, any lifting of the gloom would hurt their chances of taking office next January even if it might also mean saving lives and jobs.
Having spent the last four years challenging the legitimacy of a Trump presidency and seeking by any means, fair or foul, including manufacturing conspiracy theories about Russia collusion, to cast doubt on anything the administration has done, undermining faith in a new vaccine was unnecessary. Doing so sounded petty and partisan.
The long-term damage goes beyond the implications for November even if there is no pre-election vaccine announcement. Biden and Harris aren’t anti-vaxxers; just partisans who want to defeat Trump. Yet by irresponsibly tapping the anti-vaccine sentiment that has been gaining ground in recent years, they are lending undeserved credibility to a movement that has already played a highly destructive role in undermining public health.
In January, before the pandemic struck, a Gallup poll registered lower support for routine necessary vaccinations for children. Only 84 percent of Americans said it was important for parents to vaccinate their children, down from 94 percent in 2001.
The reason for this is the growth of an anti-vaxxer movement that, fueled by celebrity support and debunked theories about vaccines causing autism and other ill effects has reduced belief in the efficacy of one of modern medicine’s greatest achievements. The drop is enough to account for the resurgence of diseases such as measles. Medical authorities believed that vaccines eradicated measles, but thanks to anti-vaxxers, the disease has made a comeback because lower vaccination rates have damaged the herd immunity that had supposedly ended the threat.
By adding partisan politics to the potent mix of paranoia and myths that have made the anti-vaxxer movement impervious to scientists’ arguments, Democrats may have already done real damage to a post-vaccine pandemic recovery. A Gallup poll conducted in August indicates 35 percent of Americans won’t take a COVID vaccine if it were available.
Interestingly, that survey revealed that anti-vaccine sentiment was much higher among Republicans than Democrats. Gallup said 53 percent of self-identified GOP voters wouldn’t take a vaccine, while only 19 percent of Democrats would refuse one.
The results from a more recent poll conducted by CBS News/YouGov were even more discouraging. This one showed that only 21 percent of Americans would take a vaccine right now, down from 32 percent in July. Another 21 percent said they would never take one. The explanation for this reluctance came from another leading question in which 65 percent of respondents said they would view a vaccine as having been “rushed through” by Trump, with only 35 percent regarding one as “a scientific achievement.”
These numbers demonstrate that Democratic attacks on Trump have already taken a toll on public acceptance of the work of scientists who have been laboring to get a vaccine out as soon as possible.
Partisanship has built up skepticism that might well reduce the impact of an October surprise vaccine should one come about. But what Biden and Harris fail to understand is that resistance to vaccines won’t disappear if they are in charge. The impact of the anti-vaxxer movement will be strengthened by attacks from the Democrats. Indeed, it’s likely that the already troubling resistance to such measures on the right will grow if it is Biden rather than Trump who will be asking conservatives to get vaccinated.
Democrats love to claim to be “the party of science!” but it is they who are acting like science deniers. By undermining faith in a vaccine for COVID-19, they lay further groundwork for a movement that may have already grown strong enough to destroy any hope that a vaccine will end the COVID nightmare.