WASHINGTON: An America confused and fatigued by conflicting claims on coronavirus amid rising infections was electrified on Wednesday by news that a vaccine is close at hand. This even as vicious infighting erupted in the White House between two of the President Trump’s key principals on their views of the pandemic and ways to address it.
Reports that the US biotech company Moderna is ready to start the final stage of clinical trials of a vaccine that produced antibodies to the coronavirus in all 45 patients tested fueled optimism that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The antibodies produced were higher than those seen in people who have recovered from Covid-19, Moderna scientists reported, amid growing doubts about how long immunity lasts in those who recover.
In one recent case, an 82-year-old man from Massachusetts who recovered from the disease caught it again just 10 days later, ending up in intensive care both times, and there have been other reports of people catching it a second time few weeks and months down the line. But the possible Moderna breakthrough of generating more antibodies was greeted positively by Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, who told AP, “No matter how you slice this, this is good news.”
Although there are nearly two dozen vaccine candidates currently in clinical trials across the world, Moderna is said to be furthest on the track, a belief that boosted not just its stock but the market itself that is already detached from economic ground realities. While some voices counseled caution that the race towards a vaccine is more about making money than saving lives and that it could take several more months or even years for a reliable product, Moderna is expected to test its vaccine on 30,000 people, many of them in coronavirus hotspots around the world, in a large phase 3 trial.
News of the potential breakthrough came amid rising tensions in the White House with infighting spilling into the public after Trump’s trade advisor Peter Navarro viciously attacked Dr Fauci in an USA Today oped that was subsequently disowned by the President’s aides.
“Dr Fauci has a good bedside manner with the public, but he has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on,” began the Navarro oped with, listing instances, he claimed, the country’s leading infectious disease expert who has served six presidents was wrong, including flip-flopping on masks and the efficacy of hydroxychloriquine. “So when you ask me whether I listen to Dr Fauci’s advice, my answer is: only with skepticism and caution,” Navarro concluded.
A White House spokesperson said the Navarro op-ed “didn’t go through normal White House clearance processes and is the opinion of Peter alone,” adding that President “values the expertise of the medical professionals advising his Administration.” Scores of experts and public intellectuals also defended Dr Fauci.
But Trump himself has trashed Fauci in recent days, telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity last Thursday that Fauci “is a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes.” Yet, aides maintain the President has confidence in him.
The growing conflicts and confusion is compounded by a President delegating authority on some issues to states (such as on the matter of shut downs and travel restrictions) and attempting to enforce diktats on other matters (such as school re-openings). Many states are now at odds with each other.
In the early days of the pandemic, when New York and New Jersey were the hotspots, states such as Florida and Texas viewed travels from there with trepidation. Now the boot – or the coronavirus – is on the other foot. New York wants to ban travel from the new hotspots.
Trump himself has sown confusion about the coronavirus, sometimes appearing to take it seriously and sometimes dismissing it. Early this week he retweeted to his 83 million followers a tweet from game show host and conservative commentator Chuck Woolery that read, “The most outrageous lies are the ones about Covid 19. Everyone is lying. The CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors, not all but most ,that we are told to trust. I think it’s all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back, which is about the election. I’m sick of it.”