Earlier this year, Maine voters made a strong statement about their trust in science.
On election night, Bobby Reynolds, who was the manager for the No on 1 campaign, put it this way: “Mainers are practical folks who clearly listened to medical professionals. At its core, this was a public health issue.”
Just a few weeks later, COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, forced the state — and much of the world — into lockdown, which we are still working to move beyond.
As much as COVID-19 has challenged our economy and public health, our very faith in science is being put to the test by political forces — led by President Donald Trump — that put short-term gains ahead of protecting U.S. citizens from a deadly disease.
Trump has ignored the pandemic, mismanaged the federal response and lied, over and over again, about the virus and the disease it causes.
Now, with his campaign struggling to gain traction, the president appears to be counting on an October surprise to bail him out.
The president has all but promised a vaccine by Election Day. His own health experts have been more cautious about making such promises.
His language is clear. He wants a vaccine — whether it’s been tested and is safe or not, is an open question — and he’s willing to put your health and the health of everyone you know at risk if he thinks it will help his election.
And that drive for reelection is forcing the vaccine makers to take the unprecedented step of trying to reassure an anxious public that they won’t rush a vaccine that isn’t safe, tested and fully vetted.
After news broke last week that the Trump administration might try to pressure the Food and Drug Administration to take shortcuts to speed the approval of a vaccine, the leaders of nine pharmaceutical companies released a joint statement saying they would “always make the safety and well-being of vaccinated individuals our top priority.”
Trump has not earned the trust of the country or the benefit of the doubt when it comes to a potential COVID-19 vaccine and his handling of this public health crisis.
He simply can’t be trusted to do the right thing if it’s counter to what’s in his own personal interests.
While the anti-vaccine effort in Maine was handily turned away just a few months ago, the president’s actions around a COVID-19 vaccine are acting like a booster shot for their cause.
More than 105,000 Mainers voted to loosen vaccine requirements. Now, add to those numbers folks who aren’t sure if they can trust the president and the federal government he leads to make sound, science-based decisions.
It’s a train wreck in the making.
Vaccines work in two ways. They help individuals to build up resistance to a disease, and they help communities to develop herd immunity by limiting the ability of a disease to spread from person to person. By getting vaccinated, you help to protect those — who for health reasons — can’t be vaccinated.
But they only work if people actually get them.
As challenging as the development of a vaccine is for the medical community, that’s only one step in the process. After it’s developed, people have to have the confidence to get it — and that requires them to believe that it is safe and effective.
Along with clean drinking water, vaccines are one of the most important public health advances of all time, saving countless lives and stopping deadly childhood diseases in their tracks.
All of us should get vaccinated — including for the flu, which is available now.
The president, however, has made it clear that his goal is not a safe and effective vaccine. It’s to be able to say “he” delivered a vaccine in time for Election Day.
In March — before we ever saw the real impact of COVID-19 — Mainers made clear that they trust health care experts when it comes to vaccines.
Now, the president is putting that faith to test. Come October, how many of us will trust that the president is putting us first with a potential vaccine?
The damage from the president’s handling of COVID-19 continues to compound and now puts at risk the effectiveness of a potential vaccine.
David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children.