Skip to content
The Editors

Who’s Playing Politics With Public Health?

It sure isn’t the FDA.

FDA head Stephen Hahn with his boss.

FDA head Stephen Hahn with his boss.

Photographer: Pete Marovich/Getty Images

Here’s something that would once have been surprising but no longer is. To discharge its duty to the public and set clear criteria for granting emergency approval to a Covid-19 vaccine, the Food and Drug Administration found it necessary to outwit the president. Donald Trump called the agency’s guidance on vaccine safety “a political move more than anything else.” In fact, as in many other such cases, he was the one playing politics.

Last month, the FDA said drugmakers would need to provide, among other things, two months of safety data on at least half of their clinical-trial subjects. Trump disagreed and withheld White House approval, calling the guidance an attempt to thwart his promise to deliver a vaccine before Election Day. FDA officials therefore communicated it to pharma companies informally, essentially moving forward without the president’s say-so. Last week, with the guidance a fait accompli, it was formally approved and published.