Despite positive news from both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson this week on their vaccine trials, a new poll from Axios-Ipsos found that “barely two in 10 Americans” would take a COVID-19 vaccine if President Trump declared it safe. In comparison, 62 percent said they would take it if their doctors declared it safe and 54 percent would take it if the Food and Drug Administration deemed it safe.
The findings, experts say, highlight the danger of politicizing a scientific process and of downplaying a virus that has now killed 200,000 Americans. “I think people feel that way because the president has misled and lied to the American public about this pandemic from the beginning,” says Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “So there's absolutely no reason to believe any words that he says about the pandemic have any semblance of the truth.”
In interviews and White House press briefings, Trump has routinely defended his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, disputing claims from some that inadequate testing, a lack of contact tracing and mixed messaging on masks fueled the more than 7 million cases nationwide. During the first presidential debate Tuesday night, he once again said that his handling of the pandemic saved lives and that a vaccine is “weeks away.” He added that he’s “spoken to” Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, two of the frontrunners in the vaccine race, and that “they can go faster than that by a lot.”
Yahoo Life reached out to a White House spokesperson, and for comment on the poll, but did not immediately hear back.
Yahoo News Medical Contributor Dr. Dara Kass says it’s messaging like Trump’s at the debate that undermines the rigorous process used to vet and approve a vaccine, and adds to concern among the public that it’s unsafe. “President Trump is not a trusted voice in this moment and that's it,” says Kass. It is concern about expediting the vaccine that prompted 60 health officials, including Kass, to pen a letter to Pfizer — another frontrunner — calling on its leaders to follow traditional safety protocols and monitor participants for two months after the second dose of the vaccine.
Doing so would delay the approval of the vaccine, but Kass says it’s necessary in order for it to earn the approval of experts — the ones who should be dispensing the medical advice. Dr. William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, says that’s how the process is designed. “I think politicians generally should stand behind their public health leadership and support them,” says Schaffner. “But the announcements and the communications to the general public about when a vaccine is available, how to get it, how effective it is, how safe it is — that should all come from the professionals. That’s the way we’ve done it for decades.”
Adalja, when asked who should be deeming the vaccine safe besides Trump, replies “almost any other person,” adding “[they] probably know more about it than him.” He elaborates on the importance of scientists controlling the narrative. “Public health authorities, infectious disease societies, the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], the data from the pharmaceutical companies — that’s what’s going to determine whether it’s safe and effective,” says Adalja. “It absolutely will never be a real estate developer that tells you whether a vaccine is safe or not.”
Adalja points out that some of Trump’s earlier health claims regarding COVID-19 have been not only misleading but dangerous. In one briefing, the president endorsed the antimalaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a “miracle” cure for COVID-19, basing his comments on a small study that was ultimately disputed. In another, he suggested that Americans may be able to stop the coronavirus by injecting themselves with disinfectants (a comment he later characterized as a joke).
“[It’s] just a general rule that you shouldn’t take medical advice from a real estate developer, when it comes to hydroxychloroquine, when it comes to bleach, when it comes to putting UV light in your body, that’s the kind of advice you get from a real estate developer,” says Adalja. “So you have to take everything he says and do the exact opposite and you probably do better.”
Kass agrees and urges Americans to listen to the medical community when it comes to the vaccine — not politicians. “A safe and effective vaccine will end this pandemic functionally for America,” says Kass. “It will take a while to vaccinate everybody who is eligible for vaccination ... but I am excited as a parent and as a physician to endorse and take a COVID-19 vaccine that is appropriate, safe and effective.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
Read more from Yahoo Life
Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.