Joe Biden is getting grief for claiming credit for the covid vaccines that were the centerpiece of Donald Trump’s covid response. That grief is well deserved, but it’s actually far worse than that. Biden’s campaign actively and deliberately inhibited the vaccines’ rollout. Without their actions, the vaccines would probably have been rolled out at least a month earlier, which would have saved over 100 thousand lives.
I have the receipts:
- On September 2, 2020, the Trump administration notified public health officials that they should prepare for vaccine distribution as early as late October.
- This panicked Democrats, who based their entire campaign on Trump’s ineffective response to covid. They feared that a big success in Operation Warp Speed would vindicate his response and give him the boost he needed to win re-election. (And, given how the election turned out, it’s nearly certain that it would have.)
- On September 5 (three days later), Kamala Harris tells the world they should not trust Trump’s vaccine. She makes it explicitly political, saying “he’s looking at an election coming up in less than 60 days, and he’s grasping for whatever he can get to pretend that he has been a leader.” The campaign’s surrogates and the press (but I repeat myself) quickly follow suit. The threat is clear: put this vaccine out before the election, and we will destroy it.
- On September 8 (three days after that), vaccine makers issue a pledge to put science first and to release only a safe vaccine. (Basically, pledging to do just what they’re already doing.) This fails to settle the furor, because the matter isn’t actually about safety; it’s about there being no announcement before election day.
- On September 25, several “leading researchers and bioethicists” send an open letter to Pfizer, urging them to delay their vaccine. If you look up the signers, they are all Democrat donors. (Full disclosure: I only bothered to look up the first ten names.)
- On October 9 the FDA alters its standard for how many positive cases the vaccine’s testers must see before they open their results. “This guidance ensures that no COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be approved before the US presidential election.” (The linked article doesn’t give much detail on the new standard, but we’ll come to that.)
ASIDE: A lot of Republicans have given the FDA a lot of grief over this decision, but I don’t actually think it was wrong, given the Democratic extortion. If we want to get to herd immunity, it is essential that Americans trust the vaccine enough to get it. Far too many people distrust vaccines already, and we cannot afford to lose the rest of the left half of the country. That is exactly what the Biden campaign and its surrogates were not-very-subtly threatening to bring about.
- On November 9 (less than a week after election day), Pfizer announces its results, and they are astonishingly good. Also in the press release, Pfizer mentioned the FDA’s moving targets. The issue was the number of positive covid cases they needed to see in testing before they could break the seal on their results and see what proportion of the positive cases were from the study’s placebo arm. (Almost all of them, it turned out.) More positive cases means less likelihood that good results were just random chance.
- Originally the number was 32. But after “discussion with the FDA” the vaccine companies “elected” to increase the number from 32 to 62, roughly doubling the length of the test.
- But in fact, they didn’t open the study at 62 either. By the time they opened it, the number had reached 94. The press release doesn’t say why; it just blandly reports the fact. But we learn why soon enough.
The New York Times ran a very informative story on the vaccines’ development. Among many other interesting details, it contained the smoking gun:
Pfizer decided it should drop that first benchmark [32 positive cases] and asked the F.D.A. to approve a new protocol on Oct. 29, effectively dashing Mr. Trump’s hopes of an announcement before Election Day.
The company also stopped processing test results from trial participants while it worked with the F.D.A. Protocol changes are discouraged once data is available, and Pfizer did not want to cross the benchmark before it got verbal approval to drop it. That approval came on Nov. 3, Election Day, or the day after.
Pfizer didn’t look at the results even when the count reached the new benchmark of 62 because the FDA wouldn’t give them permission. The FDA finally gave them permission on election day or the day after. The notion that this was not a political decision defies all credulity.
So what was the consequence of this delay? Just because Trump said there could be a vaccine in October doesn’t mean it’s true. But let’s run the numbers. It took 99 days from the beginning of phase 3 trials (July 27) to get to 94 cases. To get to 32 cases would have taken until about the end of August (the infection rate was pretty flat at the time). A big company doesn’t move on a dime, so let’s give them a week to open the results, so September 5. In the history that actually happened, it took 40 or 41 days to begin vaccinations (December 14) after the results were opened, so in our alternate history vaccinations would have begun around October 16. So it appears that Trump’s estimate of “mid-October” was spot on.
When we started vaccinating in mid-December, it took until the end of January until the death rate was falling convincingly. So let’s call that a month-and-a-half. That means that in our alternate history the death rate is falling convincingly by the end of November. The two worst months of the covid epidemic in America were January 2021 (95 thousand) and December 2020 (65 thousand).
That’s 160 thousand lives lost to covid in December and January. If just two-thirds of those could have been saved (a conservative estimate, given how quickly the death rate was falling at the end of January), that’s over a hundred thousand lives lost as a result of the vaccine delays instigated by the Biden campaign.