Over the last several weeks, President Donald Trump has approached the White House press podium with one resounding message: The coronavirus vaccine is just around the corner and it will soon make its way to Americans across the country.
But behind closed doors Trump’s closest advisers, including those officials working on the White House coronavirus task force, are increasingly concerned about public confidence in the vaccine process. Now, White House officials are leaning on the nation’s governors to help promote the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.
On a private call with governors Monday, Vice President Mike Pence and other top coronavirus task force officials—including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield—aired their fears about the declining public support for taking a COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available. And they explicitly asked governors to ignore the politics of the impending election when discussing COVID-19 vaccines, even as Trump himself does not.
“Look, I know we’re in an election season. But what I want to do is challenge you governors,” Pence said. “We are working around the clock to get a safe and effective vaccine available but we need… you to do your part to build public confidence that it will be a safe and effective vaccine. What we don’t want is people undermining confidence in the process.”
Redfield noted that while he is confident the American people will be able to access a vaccine by next spring, he is worried about the government’s ability to convince the public that that vaccine will be safe.
“We have vaccine hesitancy in this country that allows some schools to have only 30 or 40 percent of their children vaccinated against measles because they are so convinced the vaccine is harmful,” Redfield said. “So, our biggest challenge… is to build that culture of confidence. Once fear sets in, once doubt sets in, it is going to be very hard for us to reverse that.”
The worries stated on the call echo a deeper fear among scientists and other top officials working with the task force that the American public has lost trust in the nation’s top health agencies.
Part of that lack of confidence seems to stem from the president himself, who has in recent weeks promised the quick delivery of a vaccine. Trump more recently conceded that the American public can expect to access a vaccine by April next year, but he has also stated that the clinical trial data indicates that the U.S. will soon have a viable vaccine.
“He has all of his eggs in the vaccine basket,” said Elizabeth Neumann, a former top Department of Homeland Security official who worked on the office’s coronavirus response before she left the administration earlier this year. “He’s not interested in masks, or social distancing. He likes the quick easy fix. And anybody that looks at what it takes to deploy a vaccine and deliver a vaccine… it is not quick and easy by any stretch