Two leading House Republicans, Reps. Steve Scalise and James Comer, are asking the Food and Drug Administration for documents that might relate to GOP suspicions that President Joe Biden has politicized the process of administering vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter to FDA Acting Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock, Scalise and Comer point to Biden’s Aug. 18 announcement that vaccine booster shots would be available nationwide the week of Sept. 20. “This shot will boost your immune response,” Biden said, as anxiety mounted over the Delta variant. “It will increase your protection from COVID-19. And it’s the best way to protect ourselves from new variants that could arise.”
Within moments, a number of experts began to wonder whether Biden had jumped the gun. Indeed he had; in fact, the president made the announcement before the vaccine makers had even submitted the needed data to the FDA. That led to turmoil inside the agency, where, according to an Aug. 31 report in Politico, officials “scrambled to collect and analyze data that clearly demonstrate the boosters’ benefits before the administration’s Sept. 20 deadline for rolling them out to most adults.” In other words, the FDA raced to find something to support the president’s announcement.
It was a clear demonstration that for Biden, who had boasted of his ability to handle the pandemic but then found himself under pressure for his unsure handling of the Delta problem, the politics came before the data. By early September, Woodcock told the White House to “scale back” the booster plan, “saying that regulators need more time to collect and review all the necessary data,” according to The New York Times. Two top FDA vaccine officials announced they were leaving their jobs.
Now comes a new report that boosters might not be needed at all. “None of the data on coronavirus vaccines so far provides credible evidence in support of boosters for the general population,” the Times reports, citing a new review published by a group of scientists, including the two who left the FDA.
That was too much for Reps. Scalise and Comer. “President Biden, instead of following the science, is attempting to distract from his numerous crises by playing politics and moving out ahead of the FDA and Centers for Disease Control when it comes to the science on coronavirus vaccine booster shots,” the lawmakers write in that letter to Woodcock.
They ask that the FDA provide documents related to the booster, any communications between the FDA and the White House, papers involving the two departed scientists and more. As members of the minority in the House, Scalise and Comer do not have the power to compel anyone to hand over information. But at the very least, they are calling attention to a serious issue in the Biden administration’s COVID response.
The irony in this, of course, is that just last year, the Biden team was accusing then-President Donald Trump of politicizing the government’s response to COVID, particularly research on a vaccine. “A majority of voters don’t trust Trump’s comments on a coronavirus vaccine because he has repeatedly politicized vaccine development and contradicted his own health experts to try to cover up for his failed pandemic response and help him win reelection,” the Democratic National Committee wrote in a press release in September 2020.
At around the same time, Sen. Kamala Harris, the vice-presidential nominee, was asked if she would get the vaccine when it was ready. That would depend, Harris answered. “I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump,” she said, “and it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about. I will not take his [Trump’s] word for it.” Later, Harris was asked if she would take the vaccine if it were finished before the election. She said she would do so only if the nation’s top virologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, recommended it. “But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it,” Harris said.
For his part, candidate Biden added, “I trust vaccines, I trust scientists, but I don’t trust Donald Trump. And at this moment, the American people can’t, either.”
Biden’s and Harris’ statements, amplified in the press, diminished public confidence in the vaccine before it even came out. In October 2020, just before the election, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 86% of Democrats were very worried or somewhat worried that the FDA would “rush to approve a coronavirus vaccine without making sure that it is safe and effective, due to political pressure from President Trump and the White House.”
So now we have the FDA being pushed to approve a booster shot, without making sure that it is safe and effective, due to political pressure from President Biden and the White House. Congress needs to find out what happened.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.