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CBS News’ Margaret Brennan on Sunday confronted White House chief of staff Mark Meadows for raising doubts about the Food and Drug Administration’s plan to release stricter coronavirus vaccine guidelines.
Last week, Meadows reportedly demanded FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn provide detailed justification for the new guidance, which would make it exceedingly difficult for a vaccine to be approved by Election Day.
President Donald Trump has pledged a vaccine would be made available by the end of the year, if not by the Nov. 3 election. Democrats and public health experts have expressed concerns that Trump is pressuring officials to speed up the vaccine development process for political purposes.
“You’re not a doctor,” Brennan told Meadows during an exchange Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Why insert yourself politically into this, which feeds these concerns about interference?”
Meadows responded that Brennan’s producer “obviously” didn’t do a good job of informing her of “exactly” what he had done, though he didn’t elaborate on what that might be.
“What we actually have is new guidance that’s coming out,” Meadows continued. “My question is: Why would that new guidance come out after we’ve already spent $30 billion doing that? And my challenge to the FDA is just make sure it’s based on science and real numbers and so as we look at that ―”
“Why would the FDA not be basing it on science and real numbers?” Brennan interrupted.
Meadows didn’t directly respond. Instead, he questioned why the FDA would release new guidance “after we’ve developed vaccines and drugs for decades.”
“We’re trying to make sure that the guidance we give is not an inhibitor to getting things out fast, but it also doesn’t detract from it,” Meadows said. “I’m optimistic that that guidance will come out based on good science.”
The new guidelines, drafted by a small group of career scientists at the FDA, would state that volunteers in late-stage vaccine trials should be tracked for a median of two months before an emergency authorisation can be considered, reported The New York Times.
Trump lashed out at the FDA’s efforts to tighten the vetting process during a press briefing on Wednesday, calling the agency’s move “political.” He said he may decide to veto the guidance.
“We’re looking at that and that has to be approved by the White House,” Trump said. “We may or may not approve it.”
Meanwhile, public health officials have been working to assure the public that the vaccine approval process won’t be influenced by politics.
“Decisions to authorise or approve any such vaccine or therapeutic will be made by the dedicated career staff at FDA through our thorough review processes and science will guide our decisions,” Hahn testified during a Senate hearing Wednesday.
“FDA will not permit any pressure from anyone to change that,” he added. “I will fight for science. ... I will fight for the integrity of the agency, and I will put the interests of the American people before anything else.”
Watch Meadows’ full interview on “Face the Nation” below. His comments about the FDA begin around the 3:40 mark.