Trump's empty promises may have undermined Americans' confidence in a future vaccine.
Amid Donald Trump's aggressive push for a coronavirus vaccine before the November election, polls show a sharp dip in Americans' willingness to get one — a sign more Americans fear that politics are being put before public health.
Since summer, Trump has promised that a COVID-19 vaccine could arrive within weeks.
The Trump administration has named its project to hasten vaccine development Operation Warp Speed. But the plan's chief adviser, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, told NPR in early September that it is "extremely unlikely" a vaccine would be ready before the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Yet, at a White House briefing on Sept. 16, Trump said distribution of a vaccine would "start sometime in October." Trump's recent statement follows weeks of attacks on the Food and Drug Administration as it has struggled to maintain the integrity of its trial.
Recent polls show that Trump's promises, and the resulting confusion, may have undermined Americans' confidence in a vaccine, if and when one is released.
A Morning Consult poll released Monday found that just 48% of adults say they would get a coronavirus vaccine if one became available — a record low for the poll, which showed a high of 72% in April.
A Gallup poll, also released on Monday, showed that 50% of Americans would agree to get vaccinated if an FDA-approved vaccine were available now, a figure which dropped from 66% in July.
An Axios-Ipsos poll released in late September showed that only 39% of Americans say they would get a first-generation COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it's available, which dropped from 47% in August.
And a Pew Research Center poll released earlier in September found that 51% of adults said they would get the vaccine, compared to 72% who said the same in May.
The polls paint a picture of Americans' dwindling trust in a safe and effective vaccine for the coronavirus — a trend that is especially pronounced among Democrats and independents.
Making sure a vaccine is safe and effective is, by design, a slow and arduous process, with initial trials for a treatment often taking months.
"You know, we go from a thousand people, to 60,000, to probably 100 million to 500 million people," Paul Stoffels, the chief scientific officer for drugmaker Johnson & Johnson told Stat News. "The information we generate has to be very solid."
On Tuesday, the pharmaceutical companies Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson both paused their COVID-19 vaccine trials to examine safety concerns.
"After four decades in vaccines, I expect the unexpected," Dr. Gregory Poland, the director of the Mayo Vaccine Research Group, told USA Today. "The nature of vaccine development is there are always surprises and the unexpected. Everybody's looking for them, but time has to pass before you actually know."
Trump's vaccine promises have only made scientists' jobs harder, by muddying the waters and undermining Americans' confidence in the vaccine development process.
"What I've been asking is for politicians to basically be quiet, to knock it off, to stop talking about a date and let the scientific process move forward," said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. "That would be enormously helpful and would go a long way to offering assurance to the American people that this is a process with integrity."
In early September, nine pharmaceutical companies signed a pledge to "stand with science," saying they would not release a vaccine until it was safe to do so. A few weeks later, public health experts testified to Congress that politics would not get in the way of developing a safe and effective vaccine for the virus.
At a campaign stop in Wilmington, Delaware, in September, former Vice President Joe Biden said it's important for Americans to trust the scientists working on the vaccine — even if they can't trust the current occupant of the White House.
"I trust vaccines, I trust scientists, but I don't trust Donald Trump," Biden said. "And at this moment, the American people can't, either."