Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris squared off on COVID-19 at the debate on October 7—especially when it came to the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic and the accelerated push for a vaccine.
Senator Harris opened by criticizing the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic. “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” she said. “And here are the facts: 210,000 dead people in our country in just the last several months. Over 7 million who have contracted this disease…. And here’s the thing: On January 28, the vice president and the president were informed about the nature of this pandemic…. They knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you.”
Today the Trump administration still doesn’t have a plan, Harris continued. “Joe Biden does. Our plan is about what we need to do around a national strategy for contact tracing, for testing, for administration of the vaccine and making sure that it will be free for all.”
Pence, who is also the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, called the pandemic “a very challenging time” this year. “But I want the American people to know that from the very first day, President Donald Trump has put the health of America first,” he said. Pence then accused the Biden campaign of plagiarism, claiming their plan “reads a lot like what President Trump and our task force and I have been doing every step of the way.”
That’s quite an accusation, considering the dismal state of COVID-19 contact tracing and testing in the U.S. over the past seven months. “Whatever the vice president is claiming the administration has done, clearly it hasn’t worked—when you’re looking at over 210,000 dead bodies in our country,” Harris said.
Eventually the conversation turned to a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Previously, Senator Harris said that she would be wary to take a vaccine approved under a Trump administration that didn’t have the backing of the medical community, CNN reported, and she took this chance to reiterate her position: “If the public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it,” Harris said. “But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.”
Pence responded by saying that we’ll have a vaccine in “record time,” possibly “less than a year.” He then accused Harris of “undermining public confidence in a vaccine” and urged her to “stop playing politics with people’s lives,” which is pretty rich coming from the administration that just halted COVID-19 relief negotiations in Congress.
Although there are several promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development right now, including some in Phase 3 clinical trials, we’re still a long ways from getting a vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And we’re even further away from a vaccine being widely available to the general public.
As experts have said repeatedly now, the absolute best case scenario is to have a COVID-19 vaccine approved by the end of the year. And if things continue to go well, the general public may be able to get it in spring or summer of 2021, SELF explained previously. In response to pressure from the Trump administration and to ensure public trust in the vaccine approval process, a group of pharmaceutical companies signed a pledge that they would not put speed above safety in developing a vaccine.
When it came to COVID-19 at the debate, both candidates came out swinging, but only Harris seemed to be siding with actual science.