Nurses Raise Caution Flag on COVID-19 Vaccine Push
National Nurses United today raised a caution flag on the Trump administration’s rush to promote a COVID-19 vaccine by late October or early November without assurances that the vaccine will meet the highest test of public safety as its top priority, not political considerations.
“Any vaccine that is developed and widely distributed must first undergo a full scientific evaluation,” said NNU President Zenei Cortez, RN.
“With 184,000 U.S. lives lost to COVID-19 under the watch of a president and administration that have left people exposed and dying even when known prevention measures, as other nations have proven, are available, placing an insufficiently tested product on the market will surely look like a dangerous experiment on the American people,” said NNU President Jean Ross, RN.
Nurses share a widespread concern of the timing of a pledge to have millions of vaccines distributed by late October or early November, said Ross.
NNU, she said, concurs with the concerns voiced by Saskia Popescu, an infection prevention epidemiologist, in the New York Times Wednesday about the “politicization of public health and potential safety ramifications" that "it's hard not to see this as a push for a pre-election vaccine.”
“Any therapeutic intervention must first be subject to rigorous oversight,” said NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN. Those measures include “voluntary participation in clinical trials, assurances of close monitoring for adverse events, and inclusion of a vaccine injury compensation program.”
Cortez said there are “multiple reasons for doubts about the rush to judgment on a vaccine.”
She noted the months of President Trump’s dismissal of greater availability of tests, promotion of masks and social distancing, the failure to fully invoke the Defense Production Act for mass production of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other needed equipment, and the drumbeat to end all limits on business and school reopenings. Pandemic relief bills also allotted billions in funding for big corporations instead of for increased safety measures.
In addition to the Trump administration's record on COVID-19, “there is the amply demonstrated corruption of the lead federal agencies on the vaccine,” said Cortez.
“With both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), we have already seen far too many examples of the erosion of scientific integrity and the subversion of public health through political intervention and pressure by the Trump administration and corporate employers,” said Cortez.
As far back as April, NNU has challenged revised CDC guidelines ignoring science and rolling back protective standards on PPE for nurses and other health care workers, hospital infection control measures, and encouragement of a premature return to work by infected staff.
Since then, Cortez noted, 1,500 health care workers, including more than 200 nurses, have died of COVID-19. And just last week, the CDC issued new guidelines proposing a reduction in testing, even for asymptomatic people exposed to the virus, converging with frequent statements by Trump denouncing COVID-19 testing.
Critics have also cited FDA overreliance on emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for tests and other decisions that circumvented full scientific review and regulation in conflict with a priority on public safety. And just last week, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said the agency would consider an EUA or approval of a COVID-19 vaccine before completion of clinical trials.
“As anxious as the country is for health security and protection against COVID-19, we cannot subject people to greater risk to score political points for a president who has, for months, demonstrated his abandonment of public health and safety in the face of this terrible pandemic,” Castillo said.
“We must have a vaccine, but one that meets all the scientific criteria for public safety. The last thing patients and the public need is a placebo cure that will end existing safety precautions and only accelerate the pain, suffering, and death from COVID-19,” she said.
“Nurses, as the most trusted profession, understand the importance of trust,” said Ross. “Whether it is listening to our patients or helping to guide them in decisions about their care, we know that trust is fundamental to achieving the best outcomes. It is no different when it comes to public health advocacy; trust in the scientific process is central to moving forward and successful implementation of any COVID-19 treatment or vaccine.”