The Washington Post first reported this afternoon that if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announces emergency approval for a coronavirus vaccine tonight, it will be because of a direct threat from the Trump White House.
The FDA expected to announce final approval tomorrow, but Trump's chief of staff told FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to approve a vaccine today or lose his job.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on Friday told Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, to submit his resignation if the agency does not clear the nation’s first coronavirus vaccine by day’s end, according to people familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss what happened.
The threat came on the same day that President Trump tweeted that the FDA is “a big, old, slow turtle” in its handling of vaccines, while exhorting Commissioner Stephen Hahn to “get the dam vaccines out NOW.” He added: “Stop playing games and start saving lives!!!”
The warning led the FDA to accelerate its timetable for clearing America’s first vaccine from Saturday morning to later Friday.
Does one day make a substantive or material difference? No, think we can say it won't. If a vaccine is safe to use tomorrow, it's safe to use tonight.
So, why would Trump do this? Why does he even care if it's approved today rather than tomorrow?
We can only speculate, but my gut says he wants to announce it in an address to the nation tonight before leaving Washington for a weekend of golf. If approval is announced tomorrow, he would be too busy on the golf course to take credit. Maybe something else is going on and we'll have to wait and see, but the dumbest possible explanation is usually the correct one under Trump.
In any case, this is not how things are suppose to work and it will undoubtedly contribute to public skepticism of the vaccine. I'm concerned that a significant chunk of Americans will refuse the vaccine even without this kind of political interference.