The Trump administration has dramatically failed in its overall management of the coronavirus pandemic, making the U.S. the hardest hit nation in the world in terms of the number of cases and deaths. Across the country, over 6 million cases have been confirmed, resulting in more than 195,000 deaths. The University of Washington’s health institute forecasts that U.S. deaths will total 410,000 by the end of the year.
In early September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified public health officials in all 50 states to make preparations to distribute a coronavirus vaccine to health care workers and other high-risk groups as soon as late October or early November. The CDC notices were sent out the same day that President Trump stated that a vaccine might arrive before the end of the year during his Republican Convention acceptance speech.
Public health officials have long predicted that a safe and effective vaccine would not likely be available to the public until early 2021 at the earliest, given that phase 3 clinical trials are required to ensure reliability, efficacy and reveal any negative side effects. National Nurses United Union President Jean Ross is among many health care professionals who are concerned with what appears to be a rush to launch a vaccine for political purposes. Here, she talks about what she fears could be a scheme to cut corners in clinical trials in order to give President Trump partisan political advantage by launching a COVID-19 vaccine before Election Day.
JEAN ROSS: You can have rushes put on things. You can have emergency authorizations. But you lose something when you do that. So when I talk about rigorous oversight by the organizations that are supposed to be watching out for our health, the FDA, the CDC, for example, when I talk about the kinds of things they’re supposed to be doing all the while you’re using some of these things that have been pushed through in a rapid manner to help save lives — all the while you’re doing that — you should be doing a study at the same time. Otherwise, all of that data that would have been taken is just out the window. And we don’t really know, like, let’s say we were lucky and it worked. Why did it work? And was it just luck or is this truly something that can be used and used again for other people? So when we see other reasons put forward into that pushing and rushing forward, other than caring about the health of the public, then we worry and I believe rightly so.
SCOTT HARRIS: One of the difficulties I think the public will encounter in any vaccine when it comes out is overwhelming public concern that corners have been cut, that shortcuts have been taken, and that the vaccine may not be safe. How will the public determine what is safe for themselves and their family to take?
JEAN ROSS: Well, hopefully what they will do is ask the people that can be trusted like us. You know, we top the Gallup poll every year for most trusted profession. And there’s a reason why, and the public trusts people like Dr. Fauci and other experts, epidemiological experts, and with good reasons. And so those are the people you can trust. Nurses are not going to say yes, “I would take it if I were you.” If nurses are concerned that it was rushed through without the proper oversight, I mean, we just can’t. People wouldn’t trust us anymore.
SCOTT HARRIS: We’re in the midst of a presidential campaign and former vice president, Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris on the Democratic ticket have talked about some of the things that they would do if they win the presidency. From your point of view at the National Nurses United Union, what are the most important steps a new administration could take to immediately embark on controlling this virus and doing their best to get back to normal and engage in policy that the Trump administration has not?
JEAN ROSS: Well, to start with, the two very important things that we have been lobbying for and having people sign petitions for from the get-go has been to get a temporary emergency standard under OSHA that says “You will, as an employer supply the type of equipment that these workers need in order for them to do their work and to not infect each other and their patients, you will do that.” And that’s a paramount importance. The other is the DPA, the Defense Production Act, which they’re acting like they don’t understand what it means. They say they’ve invoked it several times. Well, actually the only time I’ve seen it be invoked was to say to the workers, you must get back to the meat packing plants. But it’s supposed to be instructing employers that can, that are the most likely to retool and get the PPE that we need.
And then an overseer of sorts, completely transparent that would make sure that the equipment we need gets to the spots where it’s needed most and then stockpiles it so that we can draw from it. So instead of saying, “Well, we’re looking all over at the countries that already make these types of equipment.”
No, you retool so that others can make them, too, and make sure that we have what we need when we need it.
For more information on the National Nurses United Union, visit nationalnursesunited.