How much credit should Trump get for the coronavirus vaccines?

Mike Bebernes
·Editor
·5 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

The approval of two coronavirus vaccines represents a sign of hope as the United States endures its darkest period of the pandemic yet. By any measure, the vaccines are an extraordinary scientific accomplishment. The speed with which they were created and the revolutionary new technology they utilize would both have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

The vaccines were developed through a massive collaborative effort among scientists, governments and private companies, meaning no single person can claim credit for the achievement. That hasn’t stopped President Trump from asserting that he deserves recognition for the role he played in the breakthrough to combat the pandemic.

“If I wasn’t president, you wouldn’t have a vaccine for five years,” Trump told Fox News last week. Earlier he worked to ensure that his administration, not the next one, received recognition. “Don’t let Joe Biden take credit for the vaccine,” Trump said. “Because the vaccines were me.”

In May, the Trump administration launched Operation Warp Speed, a $14 billion effort aimed at accelerating vaccine development and production. The program invested in six vaccine candidates, including the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that have been approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration.

Why there’s debate

Operation Warp Speed played a crucial role in the speedy vaccine development, and Trump deserves credit for his role in that success, many argue. Moderna’s vaccine, in particular, would have taken significantly longer without government investment. Though Pfizer didn’t accept federal funding for its vaccine, the administration did commit to buying billions of dollars’ worth of doses while it was still in development, ensuring that a significant supply was ready to go once it was approved. A similar deal was made with Moderna and three other vaccines still in development.

The president’s critics say the role Operation Warp Speed played is overstated. The vaccines rely on technology that had been in development for years and Trump’s administration relied on plans that were drawn up long before he took office, they argue. Another group says the success of Operation Warp Speed came in spite of, not because of, Trump. As he has with many aspects of the pandemic, the president politicized the vaccine development process and fueled harmful misinformation, his critics say.

Others say it’s still too early to judge Trump’s contribution, since development is only part of the story. The true test will be whether he contributes to, or impedes, the massive logistical and public health messaging effort that’s needed to vaccinate hundreds of millions of Americans, they argue.

What’s next

The president has yet to announce whether or not he intends to take the vaccine himself, a step health experts say could play a critical role in combating vaccine skepticism, which is prominent among his supporters.

Three more vaccines that are part of Operation Warp Speed are currently in development. One of them, from AstraZeneca, could be submitted for emergency approval as soon as next month.

Perspectives

Everyone involved deserves credit, including Trump

“All of the scientists, everyone behind this, all the way up to President Trump and Vice President Pence, congratulations on this great accomplishment.” — Jake Tapper, CNN

Scientists deserve all the credit

“I think credit goes to the unprecedented scientific collaboration around the world, that scientists and developers all over the world have been pretty united in an effort to say, "We’re with this vaccine, and we are going to defeat it.” — Vaccine development expert Dr. Nicole Lurie to Washington Post

Trump played a critical role in vaccine development

“No matter what your politics, the vaccine breakthrough is a relief. Trump deserves credit. He urged the pharmaceutical giants to invest in vaccine development, committed to buying the vaccines to remove the business risk and streamlined FDA regulations to speed the process.” — Betsy McCaughey, Boston Herald

The vaccines could have been ready sooner under a different president

“The Trump administration’s ‘Operation Warp Speed’ program has played a role in funding some of the efforts to develop a vaccine, but pharmaceutical companies got started on that process while Trump was still denying COVID-19 would ever become a problem, and some didn’t even participate in Warp Speed at all.” — Chas Danner, New York

Trump’s critics aren’t willing to acknowledge when he does something good

“In any decent and normal country, everyone would congratulate the president for a desperately needed project that delivered. But we are not a decent and normal country right now. So Democrats mostly kept quiet about Operation Warp Speed, because they cannot bring themselves to say anything good about Trump.” — Jonathan Zimmerman, USA Today

Allowing Trump to take credit will mean more of his supporters get vaccinated

“You know what? Let Trump take credit for these vaccines. And not because he’s been an actual champion of science, scientists, or the regulatory process. Let him take credit because it may serve a greater good: convincing his Republican followers to trust and take the vaccine when it becomes broadly available. That, ultimately, could save many lives.” — Brain Resnick, Vox

It was really Democrats who politicized the vaccines

“It’s also important to take a moment to point out that the careful testing and approval process that is playing out is a rebuke to the cynical fearmongering that liberals pushed surrounding the vaccine development in the run-up to the election.” — Editorial, Washington Examiner

Trump claiming credit is harmful to vaccination efforts

“By trying to stake out a legacy for the outgoing president, the White House risks further politicizing the vaccine, something public health officials have sought to avoid in order to maximize the number of people willing to receive the shots.” — Jordan Fabian and Justin Sink, Bloomberg

Operation Warp Speed worked because Trump wasn’t involved

“Warp Speed was designed to be largely free of political interference and had leaders with deep experience in vaccine development and logistics, said several officials who were involved in the effort. In many ways, it was an example of how much more successful the government’s pandemic response might have been with clear leadership and officials empowered to follow the science.” — Yasmeen Abutaleb, Laurie McGinley and Carolyn Y. Johnson, Washington Post

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: John Maniaci/UW Health/Handout via Reuters, AP, Getty Images