Editorial: Rely on science, not Trump, on COVID-19

©Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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The coronavirus has killed more than 800,000 people worldwide and roughly 177,000 in the U.S.

Over 23 million people worldwide and more than 5.7 million in America have contracted COVID-19. Millions of jobs and billions in wealth have been lost, and learning has been disrupted for students from kindergarten to college.

The health, economic, social and governing crises make clear the extent of the coronavirus catastrophe. Widely available and more effective treatments — and ultimately a vaccine — can’t come soon enough.

But the timetable should be measured by medical efficacy, not “Trump time,” which is the term used by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro when he confronted Food and Drug Administration officials over COVID treatments and the medical supply chain, according to an Axios report.

President Donald Trump was just as blunt, tweeting (what else?) an unfounded accusation that the FDA was slowing treatment for political purposes.

“The deep state, or whoever, over at the FDA is making it very difficult for drug companies to get people in order to test the vaccines and therapeutics,” Trump wrote. “Obviously, they are hoping to delay the answer until after November 3rd. Must focus on speed, and saving lives!”

Nov. 3, of course, is Election Day. For the president to presume that the professional experts who have committed their careers to health care would risk lives for political purposes is a profound insult. The fact is that the FDA adheres to a scientific timetable that already is moving faster than it usually does.

The president and aides such as Navarro, who has no medical expertise, also jeopardize the trust that will be essential for an eventual vaccine to work.

And that’s not all that’s at stake: Trump risks putting the already dangerous anti-vaccination movement on steroids, which might reduce the effects of all lifesaving vaccines.

On Sunday, Trump announced that the FDA had authorized emergency approval of convalescent plasma for use in COVID patients. The process is in effect an old treatment for a new disease that takes blood plasma from recovered COVID patients for use in those currently combating the infection.

While some 70,000 people have already received some form of the promising treatment, no randomized clinical trials have yet been completed to give a more complete picture of its effectiveness. The FDA, however, said that data it had accrued to date shows that “it is reasonable to believe” that it works.

That Trump announced the move on the eve of the Republican National Convention was not lost on some observers who are concerned that it’s not the FDA, but the White House, that may be prioritizing politics.

The timing of the announcement was “conspicuous,” Benjamin Corb, the director of public affairs for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, told the Washington Post. Trump, he added, is “once again putting his political goals ahead of the health and well-being of the American public.”

The virus is apolitical. The medical response should be, too. And the next critical steps in the nation’s battle to stop the spread should be determined by science, lest the COVID statistics grow even more grim.

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©2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)