Cal Cunningham, the Democratic challenger to U.S. Senator Thom Tillis in North Carolina, is the latest member of his party to turn concern about the Trump administration rushing a COVID-19 vaccine into public skepticism of inoculation during a pandemic.
In a debate with Tillis on Monday, Cunningham, a former state senator, was asked, “Do I read you to say you would be hesitant to receive the vaccine if it were approved by the end of the year?” “Yes I would be hesitant,” the candidate responded, adding, “But I’m going to ask a lot of questions. I think that’s incumbent on all of us right now with the way we’ve seen politics intervening in Washington.”
Echoing what was already showing signs of being a new line of attack on the traditionally anti-vaxxer right, Tillis tore into his challenger. “That statement puts lives at risk,” he said. “We just heard a candidate for the U.S. Senate look into the camera and tell 10 million North Carolinians he would be hesitant to take a vaccine. I think that that’s irresponsible.”
Any vaccine available to Cunningham would presumably be signed off on by the Food and Drug Administration, which has—along with other top health agencies—promised to put safety first in the approval process. This even as the president has touted aggressive timelines for completing trials, and reports of internal pressure on scientists have given some health experts pause. Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, previously raised eyebrows when she refused to say if she would take a vaccine promulgated by the Trump administration.