Politico: Will a COVID-19 vaccine be Trump’s October surprise?

Are we supposed to be suspicious of motives if the US produces a working and effective vaccine? Politico seems a bit suspicious of the Trump administration’s motives to fast-track a vaccine to end a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands and has brought economic activity to a near-standstill. They worry that Trump’s trying to rush a vaccine before it can be proven safe, or perhaps will just claim one has been found even if nothing is ready to use by early November:

While the race to find an effective vaccine for Covid-19 has crucial implications for nations around the world, it also carries political ramifications in the United States — with Trump banking heavily on finding a vaccine to quell both the pandemic and mounting unhappiness over his handling of the coronavirus response.

Buoyed by a series of encouraging early trial results, the administration is laying the groundwork for a high-profile rollout of initial coronavirus vaccines in as little as three months. It’s a best-case timetable that also tracks with the final weeks before the Nov. 3 election. The White House’s Operation Warp Speed has poured billions of dollars into developing a vaccine in record time, funding several efforts in parallel and buying up doses of the experimental shots in a wager that one will ultimately pay off. …

There is virtually no chance that the U.S. will have a proven vaccine by Election Day, several top vaccine experts told POLITICO. It could also take well into 2021 to produce and distribute the hundreds of millions of shots needed to inoculate the entire country.

Yet at the same time, drugmakers’ sprint through early clinical trials means leading vaccine candidates could begin to show indications of their effectiveness by late October, offering Trump the opportunity to seize on them as a potential game-changer.

To be fair, it’s not just Trump skeptics that have been gaming out this possibility. A couple of weeks ago, Fox Business also highlighted an argument that Trump could win in November with a game-changer in the fall. And that game-changer is …

“There’s still a path for Trump to win,” Valliere said. “But, it’s a really narrow path.” …

Additionally, BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told The Wall Street Journal that his company’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine is on track for regulatory approval by the end of the year.

Such developments would go a long way toward lowering the mortality rate and restoring economic confidence, which has been rattled by the sharpest slowdown of the post-World War II era.

Investors pulled into the market amid the calm would need to buy $400 billion of stocks to reach their historical median equity exposure, according to Kolanovic. He believes that could cause a rotation out of the high-flying momentum stocks and into value, helping drive the market to new highs.

The result would be an environment where investors who missed out on the rally off the March lows could get a second chance at bat, Kolanovic said.

“If there’s some credible sign of a vaccine this fall, that could help Trump,” said Valliere, of AGF Investments.

So yes, it’s permissible to calculate the political value of vaccine progress. In fact, it’s been pretty clear that the sustainability of economic reopening is tied to finding a vaccine that at least allows for a significant period of immunity, and no one disputes that economic recovery will impact the election. Trump has certainly made no secret of his desire to get a V-shaped recovery under way well before the election, or that re-election is at least part of his interest in that.

However, calling it an “October surprise” is rather silly. We’ve been tracking vaccine progress since the search launched in March, and trial timetables have been fairly well known ever since. We have been fortunate thus far in that the leading candidates have succeeded in early trials at both immunity boosting and keeping side effects to a minimum in the limited experimental uses so far. We also have known for weeks if not months that the Trump administration had committed to buying hundreds of millions of doses at stage 3 testing. That was an explicitly stated step in Operation Warp Speed, just in case one or more vaccines work, in order to expedite their use. None of this is a “surprise” at all; it will just be really good news if indeed one or more vaccines do prove effective and safe by early autumn.

If we get a vaccine by October, people know it might not get into their arms by the first Tuesday in November but it will come shortly afterward, thanks to Operation Warp Speed. Why wouldn’t that be a legitimate win for Trump? And shouldn’t we all hope that we succeed in the mission to find a vaccine, no matter who’s president when it happens?

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