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Trump puts pressure on FDA for coronavirus silver bullet ahead of Election Day

September 4, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 19: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn (R) speak on the latest developments of the coronavirus outbreak, in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House March 19, 2020 in Washington, DC. With Americans testing positive for the coronavirus rising, President Trump is asking Congress for $1 trillion aid package to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Facing a persistent polling deficit and a struggling economy, President Donald Trump has cranked up pressure on administration health officials to expedite work both on a coronavirus vaccine and on treatments that might signal to voters there is an end in sight to the life-altering pandemic that has imperiled his reelection prospects.

Washington (CNN)Facing a persistent polling deficit and a struggling economy, President Donald Trump has cranked up pressure on administration health officials to expedite work both on a coronavirus vaccine and on treatments that might signal to voters there is an end in sight to the life-altering pandemic that has imperiled his reelection prospects.

In meetings focused on vaccine development throughout the spring and summer, Trump has consistently pressed officials to speed up their timeline for developing a vaccine, administration officials said, saying the President appeared intent on being able to deliver at least the solid promise of an effective vaccine by the time he faces reelection.

Those efforts have only scaled up as Election Day nears, and Trump has repeatedly complained that some officials at federal health agencies are actively working to stymie his reelection chances by slow-walking announcements that might project forward momentum.

Administration health officials continue to insist that no vaccine or treatment will be approved for use -- either through full authorization or an emergency use designation -- unless it is safe and effective.

At some point, the FDA will face a decision on authorizing emergency use of a vaccine before it is formally approved -- a move Hahn has repeatedly said is on the table.

Some health experts fear that leaves open the possibility the White House will pressure Hahn and Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar to approve use of a vaccine before Election Day.

"Every decision the FDA has made during the Trump Administration has maintained the agencies (sic) gold standard for safety and been data-driven to save lives, and this false narrative that the media and Democrats have created that politics is influencing approvals is not only false but is a danger to the American public," White House spokesman Judd Deere told CNN in a statement.

Earlier this summer, under pressure from Trump and aides like trade adviser Peter Navarro, the FDA approved an emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine, only to rescind it less than two months later after a large study showed "no evidence of benefit for mortality or other outcomes such as hospital length of stay or need for mechanical ventilation. " The President instead used his personal testimony to tout it, even though he had not tested positive for coronavirus.

Other officials placed the push for a vaccine within the Trump administration's larger approach to the coronavirus pandemic, which has been marked by intense pressure from the top to push optimistic assessments and potential cures, even when the science is lacking.

In a letter this week, the CDC told public health officials around the United States to prepare to distribute a potential coronavirus vaccine as soon as late October -- days before Election Day. The documents do not necessarily mean a vaccine will be available in that timeframe, and National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said he did not interpret the letter to mean the CDC was preparing to jump the gun on a vaccine

"Too much of the evidence points to the Trump administration pressuring the FDA to approve a vaccine by Election Day to boost the President's re-election campaign," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement on Thursday.

Trump has complained this summer that career officials in his own government are working against him, predicting they would purposely avoid announcing a vaccine until after Election Day. Decrying a "deep state" intent on ousting him, Trump has asked officials in the White House to ensure people who are loyal to him are overseeing the vaccine efforts, people familiar with the conversations said.

Inside the West Wing, some officials have claimed that scientists working at the FDA and the National Institutes of Health are actively working to stymie Trump's efforts toward developing treatments and a vaccine in order to diminish his chances of reelection.

When word arrived at the White House last month that the FDA was preparing to issue an emergency use authorization on convalescent plasma for treating coronavirus, officials quickly decided that Trump himself should announce it rather than issuing a more standard statement from the agency.

But after a series of phone calls between Trump's aides and FDA leadership, it was decided that Hahn would come to the White House briefing room to join Trump for the announcement -- even though some other administration health officials, including Fauci and his boss at the NIH, Collins -- had raised concerns about it.

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