As news has dribbled out recently that a coronavirus vaccine might hit the market as early as October, lots of Democrats and liberals have reacted with some combination of suspicion and panic that Donald Trump is somehow rigging the trial process to rush out a vaccine to help him win the election. The White House has dubbed the vaccine effort Operation Warp Speed, after all. Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois told The Daily Beast’s Sam Brodey: “I would not put it past this administration and this president to advance his personal political agenda ahead of our national interest.”
Panic is an understandable reaction. If a U.S. company like Moderna does develop a vaccine before Election Day, Trump will preen around as if he developed it himself, and Fox will all but call him Jonas Salk. That’s obvious, right?
Actually, I say it’s not so obvious at all. I think a pre-election vaccine would present a huge dilemma for Trump, and here’s why. Some of his supporters, surely, are people who trust science and would take a vaccine. But a big chunk of his base consists of people who think any vaccine is some plot by Anthony Fauci to make a bajillion dollars and George Soros to sterilize the male population; they will be suspicious of a vaccine and unwilling to take it. So whatever vaccine position he takes, he’s going to turn off one group or the other.
Let’s start by looking at some numbers. In late May, a Washington Post-ABC poll asked people if they’d take a vaccine. Seventy-one percent said they definitely or probably would, and 27 percent said they definitely or probably would not. Democrats and independents said they would overwhelmingly. Republicans were split 58-40 in favor.
That’s still fairly overwhelming—but it does mean that two out of five Republicans would not. A CBS poll this week showed a similar picture, with liberals more than twice as likely to say they’d get a vaccine shot immediately than conservatives, and a third of conservatives saying that they’d never get one, which stands to reason given Trump’s rhetoric hyping hydroxychloroquine and touting the rigorous research of Doc Demon Sperm.
In other words, Republicans are pretty split on whether they’d take a vaccine. They’re also somewhat split on wearing masks, although a little less so. An AP-NORC poll from last week shows that Democrats and independents overwhelmingly support the wearing of masks, whereas among the Republicans the percentages are 58-27, so one in four Republicans is anti-mask. That clearly includes Louie Gohmert, who convened his staff in person Wednesday to tell them that he’d tested positive for the coronavirus, and speculated, rather insanely, that maybe he’d got it because he’d worn a mask.
Meanwhile, out there in Crazytown, there’s a lot of weird talk whipping around. I exaggerated above a little with the Soros thing, but there are in fact loads of rumors about Fauci having a financial interest in a vaccine. Bill Gates, too. The basic argument is that they’re discrediting hydroxychloroquine because they’ll gain financially if it is kept off the market. Of course that’s all lies, but that doesn’t stop people from repeating and believing it.
This looniness is only going to get worse in the coming weeks, as the election draws closer along with the prospects for a vaccine. At that point, Republicans may be deeply split on the question of the efficacy of a vaccine. There will be those who are mostly turned off by Trump’s bluster and will silently and responsibly wear their masks to the store and take a dose when it becomes available. And there will be those who believe everything they read on Facebook, which by October will no doubt implicate Hillary and Podesta, too.
What will Trump do? To which constituency will he pander? He gave us a little clue back in 2016, when he quietly met with some prominent anti-vaxxers. If there’s an extreme, stupid, anti-science position, Trump will race toward it, then backpedal for 48 hours, then sprint again.
And what about Sean, Tucker, and Laura? Anti-deep state conspiracy-mongering is their mother’s milk. And now that the FDA has officially become part of the deep state, why would they start touting a vaccine that can be distributed only with the deep state’s say so? Especially with Joe Biden and all us fake news people hailing a potential vaccine as a life-saver?
So I say Trump will face a huge dilemma if there’s an October vaccine. Whatever he says then will alienate a significant percentage of Republican voters. And the best part is that it’s all his doing, for sneering at science and promoting quackery and not wearing a mask and encouraging all these rumors.
Meanwhile, while I have your attention on this matter, bear with me as I make two important substantive points.
First: If Moderna’s vaccine proves effective, we can practically already hear the people from Larry Kudlow on down singing hymns to the great American free market, right? Right.
Well, the truth of the matter will be rather different. So far, through its Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (Barda), the United States government has given Moderna nearly a billion dollars. That’s right. Barda gave the company $483 million back in April and another $472 million last week.
I’m not saying this is a bad use of taxpayer dollars. In fact it seems to me a rather good use of them. I’m just saying, if and when Moderna announces its vaccine, don’t let anyone within your earshot extol the virtues of the free market. The government helped do this—which clearly gives the government the right to set the prices and limit Moderna’s profit, but that’s a column for another day.
Second: Even when there’s a vaccine, we’re not entirely out of the woods. That’s because a vaccine is not an end in itself; it’s a means to an end. The end is the development of herd immunity, and that depends on 1) the vaccine’s success rate and 2) how many people take it. I’m told by people who know such things that we can probably count on the vaccine to be maybe 50 or 60 percent effective, which may mean that we need up to 80 percent of the population to take it.
If these polls numbers hold up, that’s not happening. So to some significant extent, Superstition America will be in a position to hold Science America hostage. Let’s hope at least by then we have a Science America administration, House, and Senate, and the Lysol Injection Caucus will be, if not quieted, at least out of power.