Our nation’s public health system is a treasure.
It comprises multiple agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration, some of which conduct original research and others of which inform the public about ways to prevent illness. Still others make sure the medicine and vaccines we use are safe and effective.
That’s why it’s been so deeply distressing to watch the Trump administration take a wrecking ball to the integrity of this system and these agencies.
We don’t have the time or space to list all of the administration’s most egregious actions. We could start with the sidelining of Anthony Fauci, perhaps the nation’s most trusted scientific adviser during the COVID-19 pandemic. We could continue with efforts in the Health and Human Services Department to control regular scientific reports that come out of the CDC.
Perhaps most alarmingly, we could focus on the way that the president has urged the FDA to cut corners and accelerate the timeline on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, hoping against hope to deliver an October surprise and a presidential re-election.
In each of these cases, we see a president and an administration devoted to short-term political gain over long-term public health. The United States has paid a continuing price, as other nations have followed the science and kept their outbreaks under control. Our government’s decision to put the political ahead of the scientific has cost us all dearly.
And the trade-off hasn’t ended. Polling has shown that many Americans will distrust an eventual COVID-19 vaccine. If the president demands that the FDA approve a treatment before testing is conducted, how is the public supposed to react?
We have non-partisan public health institutions for a reason. They are meant to prevent exactly this kind of abuse. They are meant to be a trusted source of information for every American, Republican, Democrat or independent.
In attempting to break the mission of these institutions — which are still packed with incredibly talented researchers, scientists and public communicators — the president risks breaking trust with the American people.
This illness of governance was preventable. Curing it may take more aggressive treatment in November.