Tuesday, May 19, 2020


Many people think the president's announcement yesterday that he's taking hydroxychloroquine was a brilliant act of media manipulation. Josh Barro disagrees:

Barro is right. Even though polls show that voters still give Trump relatively high marks on his economic management despite the current downturn, he's staked his entire reelection campaign on hopes for a fast recovery -- but then when the markets rally, he steps all over the good news. Why?

In part, I think he was trying to change the subject from Mike Pompeo and a fired inspector general. But I also think he was trying to reclaim the news cycle from Moderna, the Massachusetts biotech company that announced positive results in tests of a possible COVID-19 vaccine yesterday.

Even apart from Trump's hydroxychloroquine revelation, he seemed to be acting as if Moderna's announcement stole the spotlight that should have been rightfully his. This also happened, as reported by The Independent:
Donald Trump on Monday teased – though vague – "big announcements" soon on both a coronavirus vaccine and drugs to treat those that contract the virus, calling such therapeutics "more important" because they have an "immediate" effect.

The president appeared to be reacting to Moderna CEO St├ęphane Bancel telling investors on Monday that a potential Covid-19 vaccine is showing promise in testing....

Mr Trump, during a meeting with restaurant industry executives said Monday has been "a very big day cure-wise and therapeutic-wise." But he did not give more specifics about the timing of any announcements; he frequently teases such revelations in "two weeks" or "a few weeks," sometimes with no explanation when he does not make an announcement for weeks or months after, if at all.
Is he aware of any real breakthroughs in therapeutics? Is he just determined to announce that hydroxychloroquine is a helpful treatment? And while good treatments could come sooner than a virus and are thus desperately needed, it's absurd to say that they're "more important" than a vaccine would be.

So instead of being the president who got to announce proudly that a U.S.-based firm is making progress on a vaccine, he said that he has the real big news, though he can't tell is what it is yet.

Recall that Moderna's CEO featured in one of Trump's more humiliating moments during this crisis.
During a press opportunity on March 2, a dozen biotech company executives joined President Donald Trump around the same wooden table where his cabinet meets.

As each took a turn saying what they could add to the fight against the spreading coronavirus, Trump was interested in knowing exactly how soon a countermeasure might be ready.

But only one presenter—St├ęphane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts—could say that just weeks into the outbreak his company had already delivered a candidate vaccine into the hands of the government for testing.

“So you are talking over the next few months you think you could have a vaccine?” Trump said, looking impressed.
Then came the clarification Trump didn't want to hear:
"Correct, (for) phase two (testing)," Bancel answered.

[Dr. Anthony] Fauci interjected: "He wouldn't have a vaccine. He'd have a vaccine to go into testing."

Trump said: "Oh, so you're talking in about a year."

Fauci said: "A year to a year and a half."

The President said that one executive was "talking about two months."

But Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar clarified that Regeneron, a biotechnology company that was represented in the room, would be ready for phase one testing for a vaccine in two months.

Leonard Schleifer, the CEO of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, then underscored that "vaccines have to be tested because there's precedent for vaccines to actually make diseases worse. ... You don't want to rush and treat a million people and find out you're making 900,000 of them worse."
This is why Trump was downplaying vaccines last week:
President Donald Trump said the U.S. will overcome the coronavirus crisis with or without an effective vaccine, saying that the disease will “go away at some point” either way.

“We think we’re going to have a vaccine in the pretty near future, and if we do we’re going to really be a big step ahead,” Trump told a reporter Friday at a White House event detailing U.S. efforts to develop a vaccine.

“And if we don’t, we’re going to be like so many other cases where you had a problem come in, it’ll go away at some point, it’ll go away,” Trump said. “It may flare up and it may not flare up, we’ll have to see what happens, but if it does flare up we’re going to put out the fire and we’ll put it out quickly and efficiently. We’ve learned a lot.”

The president had been asked about his comments earlier in the event, when he said, “Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back. And we’re starting the process. In many cases, they don’t have vaccines and a virus or a flu comes and you fight through it.”
Vaccines are annoying! They take too long! Trump is running for reelection now!

So I think he made his hydroxychloroquine announcement in large part because he didn't want to be upstaged by some damn biotech company that will insist on safety and effectiveness testing of a vaccine even if it continues past November.

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