US officials assure COVID vaccine decisions won't be political

The head of Operation Warp Speed and the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) both made public statements yesterday concerning US COVID-19 vaccine developments, assuring the public that any vaccine approval would be an apolitical decision and not part of an "October surprise" by President Donald Trump to sway favor in the upcoming election.

After news broke earlier this week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked states to prepare for vaccine distribution as early as the end of October, many skeptics feared the vaccine was being rushed as part of Trump's re-election campaign.

"There is a very, very low chance that the trials that are running as we speak could read before the end of October, and therefore there could be—if all other conditions required for an emergency use authorization are met and approved," said Moncef Slaoui, PhD, chief adviser for Operation Warp Speed, in an interview with National Public Radio. "I think it's extremely unlikely but not impossible, and therefore it's the right thing to do to be prepared in case."

Slaoui was the former head of GlaxoSmithKline's vaccines department. He said what motivates him and other members of Operation Warp Speed is that between 800 and 1,000 Americans are dying each day due to COVID-19.

"Every day that we can be faster, we try to be faster," he said. "For us, there is absolutely nothing to do with politics, and many of us may or may not be supportive of this administration—it's irrelevant, frankly."

HHS secretary weighs in

In related news, HHS Secretary Alex Azar told CBS News yesterday that the timing of vaccine development has nothing to do with the upcoming election.

"I think it's very irresponsible how people are trying to politicize notions of delivering a vaccine to the American people," Azar said. "We have a significant challenge with vaccine hesitancy, and efforts to undermine confidence in a vaccine that would come hurt, in terms of people being willing to take a vaccine once it comes through."

Two thirds of Americans (67%) say they will not try to get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it becomes available, and 23% say they don't plan on getting it at all, according to a new USA Today/Suffolk Poll. Among the 1,000 Americans surveyed, many reported they don't want to be "guinea pigs" in what they see as a rushed effort.

Approaching 190,000 deaths ahead of Labor Day

US officials reported 36,506 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and 1,070 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard. The total is now 6,176,623 cases and 187,347 deaths.

The country will likely see 190,000 deaths by Labor Day, and some experts worry the long holiday weekend, like Memorial Day and Fourth of July before it, will lead to an uptick in case transmission as Americans gather for social events. Kaiser Health News said the situation is complicated by schools being open in some parts of the country.

The latest model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington estimates a peak of 410,451 US COVID-19 deaths by the first of the year, according to The Hill.

The model says as many as 122,000 of those deaths are avoidable with safety measures in place, but warns the death toll could reach 600,000 by the New Year if states ease current restrictions.

The lynchpin of those restrictions in most states is mandated mask wearing, which has fallen along party lines among US governors. New research highlighted the Washington Post shows among the 33 states with mask mandates, those with Republican governors imposed such rules 30 days later than those of Democratic governors.

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