Coronavirus missteps from CDC and FDA worry health experts

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Dr. Stephen Hahn, the embattled head of the Food and Drug Administration, offered an assurance Monday: Any vaccine for public use will be approved “on the basis of science and data.”

“We will not make that decision on the basis of politics,” he said in an interview with “CBS Evening News.” “That’s a promise.”

Hahn made the pledge after a series of recent public missteps involving the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — two of the federal agencies critical to the U.S. coronavirus response — which have damaged their reputations at a time when they are needed the most, according to seven prominent doctors and scientists who spoke to NBC News. They say that the recent events are clear signs of political interference from the White House and that they have shaken their trust and confidence in the leadership of the agencies.

“It’s an enormous scandal,” said Carl Bergstrom, a biologist at the University of Washington who has become an outspoken critic of the U.S. pandemic response and has written extensively about misleading health information. “What it looks like at this point is you have a White House altering public health advice to improve election chances to the detriment of American lives.”

In an interview published Sunday in The Financial Times, Hahn said the FDA could fast-track a coronavirus vaccine by issuing an emergency use authorization before the end of Phase 3 clinical trials. The comments were met with an outcry from public health experts, prompting him to clarify in the CBS interview that a vaccine wouldn’t be politicized.

Before that, Hahn misrepresented data about convalescent plasma, leading him to apologize for having overstated the potential treatment’s benefits. He also ousted the agency’s chief spokesperson over the fiasco, The New York Times reported.


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