Americans awoke on Monday to some unambiguously good news.
The drug company Pfizer announced that the early analysis of a large-scale trial of a vaccine candidate was more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 among volunteers with no prior coronavirus infection. The data is preliminary. It has not been peer-reviewed, and it is far from conclusive. But the speed with which the pharmaceutical industry has raced toward a vaccine is nothing short of a medical miracle. And this, the first glimmer of real hope for delivery from the conditions into which the pandemic consigned us all, was met with elation across the country. And yet, not everyone was thrilled with the news—among the less sanguine were the Democrats who spent the campaign inculcating in their voters a baseless and cynical paranoia.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose record as the nation’s most incompetent state-level manager of the COVID crisis is unrivaled, could not bring himself to back down from the conspiracy theory in which he is so invested. The Empire State governor had spent much of the campaign insisting that Donald Trump was personally interfering in the process of developing a safe vaccine so that it could be brought to market before the election. Given that the election cycle ended nearly a week ago, he should be able to admit at this point that this fanciful outcome did not materialize. And yet, Cuomo just cannot bring himself to dispense with the hysteria.
In a Monday morning appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Cuomo called Pfizer’s announcement “good news and bad news.” The good news is that a vaccine is likely to be available to the public by mid-2021. The bad news is that Donald Trump is still president. Yes, seriously.
“It’s about two months before Joe Biden takes over,” Cuomo said. “And that means this administration is going to be administering a vaccine plan.”
“When you deny a problem the way Trump did, you can never solve it,” insisted Cuomo—the author of a self-aggrandizing book that does not discuss how many nursing home residents died in his state, which still refuses to allow an outside review of the policies that contributed to those 6,400 deaths.
To the extent that there was any substance to Cuomo’s criticism, it was in a conjectural critique of the private health-care system, which he speculated would be “slow” (slower than the public sector, somehow) and implicitly discriminates against at-risk populations such as minorities. “You can’t let this vaccination plan go forward the way the Trump administration is designing it,” he continued, “because Biden can’t undo it two months later.”
You read that right: Even if there is an effective inoculation against this paralyzing pandemic before January 20, we simply cannot allow Trump to preside over it.
Cuomo’s claim that at-risk populations will be discriminated against doesn’t comport with what Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield told Congress in September—that the most at-risk populations and frontline health-care workers will have privileged access to a vaccine. The governor’s contentions are also untethered to what public health experts have advised the Biden administration to do, which is to lean heavily on and financially support the private sector to facilitate the distribution and refrigeration of a vaccine on an unprecedented scale. Cuomo’s ethically bankrupt fear-mongering is just that.
If the standard Cuomo has set during this pandemic is any indication, most Democrats will not seek to model his example. But New York’s governor was hardly the only Democratic politician trying to convince voters that Donald Trump spent his nights in the White House basement whipping up a placebo.
Democrats didn’t cut from whole cloth the idea that Donald Trump wanted to see a vaccine reach the market before the election. Of course, he did—and he was quick to suggest that a vaccine would arrive before November 3 even when officials in his administration contradicted him. But Democrats also did their level best to convince voters that Trump was acting on his threats, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed the non-existence of any evidence that Donald Trump was interfering in the federal-approval process by insisting that “we cannot have political interference into the production or discovery of that vaccine.” President-elect Joe Biden devoted a campaign speech to the idea that Trump would intervene in the FDA’s approval process. In that speech, he implied, without evidence, that the scientific community would (to say nothing of “could”) conceal from the public relevant clinical data ahead of a vaccine’s distribution. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris made the strongest allegations along these lines. “If past is prologue … they will not,” she said when asked if the scientific community will “get the last word” on the “efficacy” of a COVID-19 vaccine. “They’ll be muzzled, they’ll be suppressed, they will be sidelined.” When pressed if she would agree to be inoculated while Trump was president, Harris hedged. “I will say that I will not trust Donald Trump,” she added.
To suggest that anyone would need to take the president’s “word” on the effectiveness of a vaccine relies upon and exploits the presumed ignorance of the average American about how this process works. It was a cynical strategy and, if Andrew Cuomo is an indication, one that Democrats don’t believe they can abandon now. This posture helped win the White House for Biden, but it has also had some unfortunate side effects. Among them, a profound decline across the board in the number of Americans who believe a COVID-19 vaccine will be both benign and effective and, worst of all, the galvanization of the community of paranoiacs who insist that all vaccines are harmful.
Political media has spent the last four years patting themselves on the back for the adversarial posture they adopted when covering the Trump administration. Speaking truth to power is, indeed, a noble public service. But if Cuomo’s performance on GMA is any indication, it’s a service that will expire along with Trump’s presidency.