Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Fact check: Trump makes false claims about vaccine

President Trump has made several false claims about a coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer Inc., Hope Yen, Lauran Neergaard and Linda A. Johnson report for The Associated Press. Here's a summary:

Trump falsely tried to take full credit for Pfizer's announcement that its vaccine might be 90 percent effective. In a tweet Tuesday, Trump quoted Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo to imply he should get credit for the vaccine. However, his suggestion "that he stood alone in saying a covid-19 vaccine was possible by year’s end is incorrect," AP reports. "Actually, top health experts said they considered that possible, though far from certain, and were more skeptical of Trump’s claim that a coronavirus vaccine would become available before the Nov. 3 election. The vaccine isn’t expected to become widely available to the general public before 2021."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious-diseases expert and head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had previously said he was "cautiously optimistic" that a vaccine would be ready by late 2020 or early 2021. On Monday, he lauded Pfizer's news, but cautioned that it didn't mean an immediate cure-all for the coronavirus, AP notes.

Pfizer says it will apply to the Food and Drug Administration for "emergency use authorization" to allow limited distribution later this month, then seek approval for wider use, and neither request is guaranteed to be granted, AP reports. Fauci told CNN that there are still questions about the vaccine's effectiveness and durability; it requires two doses, 21 days apart, and must be kept at 94 below zero.

In several tweets, Trump also claimed that Pfizer and the FDA withheld vaccine information until after the election, implying that it was done to harm him politically. That's false, the AP reports: "The company itself learned of the interim results on Sunday, and the FDA was not involved in Pfizer’s decision to announce its early results."

All vaccine studies such as the one Pfizer is conducting are overseen by independent data and safety monitoring boards. DSMBs "include scientists and statisticians who have no ties to the vaccine makers," AP reports. "Before a study is complete, only the DSMB has the power to unlock the code of who got a real vaccine and who got a placebo, and to recommend if the shots are working well enough to stop testing early. Those boards take sneak peeks at predetermined times agreed to by the manufacturer and the FDA. It provided the first interim analysis for Pfizer on Sunday." Several Pfizer officials, including CEO Albert Bourla, have asserted that the announcement's timing had nothing to do with the election.

Vice President Mike Pence and Congressman-elect Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), Trump's former White House physician, sent tweets crediting the president for the vaccine; Trump retweeted them. However, Trump and Pence "are wrongly seeking full credit for forging the partnership that made the potential breakthrough possible. Pfizer notably did not accept government money to develop, test or expand manufacturing capacity under Trump’s Operation Warp Speed initiative to quickly find a vaccine and treatments for the disease sweeping the country," AP notes. "In fact, Pfizer partnered with the vaccine’s original developer, Germany’s BioNTech, in March," before Warp Speed was announced.

Though Pfizer hasn't accepted Warp Speed funding, it must follow the same vaccine-development requirements as competitors that did take government money. "The company says it has risked $2 billion of its own money on vaccine development and won’t get anything from Washington unless the effort is successful," the AP reports. But Pfizer signed an agreement with the U.S. government in July to supply 100 million doses for $1.95 billion if the vaccine works and gains FDA approval.

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