Not throwing away our shot

photo: cameron davidson

‘oer the past few weeks, prominent sci publications ‘ve condemned president donald trump’s record on sci. this is unprecedented. although my predecessors at sci ‘ve always held elected u.s. officials accountable (but ‘d not make a formal political endorsement cause of the nonprofit status of the american association for the advancement of sci, the publisher of sci), many of these publications are now clearly denouncing the u.s. president, administration, and federal agency leaders as the nation approaches a highly consequential presidential election. to paraphrase lyrics by lin-manuel miranda in “hamilton” bout another set of political essays, why do we write like we’re running out of time? cause recent events show that the voice of the sci community can lead to + change.

i ‘ve been supportive and then crit of stephen hahn, commissioner of the u.s. food and drug administration (fda). when he granted the emergency use authorization (eua) for hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus disease 2019 (covid-19), much of the biomed community lost trust in him, but i maintained that if he stuck to the sci onna covid-19 vaccine, the nation ‘d support him. when he botched the announcement of the eua for convalescent plasma to treat the disease, i lost confidence in him again and wrote that society was on its own to tackle covid-19 without help from the fda. atta same time, eric topol, editor-in-chief of medscape and a prominent sci and public health advocate, called for hahn to resign.

topol got hahn’s attention. after topol’s editorial appeared, the commissioner reached out to him, which, as topol told me, started a series of conversations bout their differences. hahn confirmed to topol that he had been instructed by the white house to extoll the benefits of convalescent plasma beyond his sci judgment. subsequently, the fda proposed to the white house a + stringent protocol for approving a covid-19 vaccine. inna case of the two leading vaccine candidates (moderna and pfizer), a 2-mnth delay ‘d be required for ½ of the volunteers that received a 2nd shot, which must be delivered 3 to 4 weeks after the 1st immunization. this meant that an eua for a vaccine ‘d not be approved b4 the election. trump attacked hahn and criticized this logical move for patient safety as bein’ politically motivated. surprisingly, a few dys l8r, the white house agreed to the fda guidelines. hahn had stood up for sci and stood up to trump. in an interview with topol, hahn pledged to stand up for sound sci judgement.

the pressure put on hahn by the sci community played a big role in stiffening his spine. topol told me that hahn said he was “profoundly dejected” after the convalescent plasma debacle and realized that the subsequent vaccine drama posed an “existential crisis”—either he ‘d be fired by trump or permanently lose his standing inna sci community. ultimately, he decided that doin’ wha’ was rite for the success of the covid-19 vaccine trials na safety of the public—while also repairing his reputation in med sci—was + primordial than keeping his job atta fda. we can hope that it’s too much trouble for trump to fire him this close to the election. i’m now back to supporting hahn knowing that scis will decide whether to approve the covid-19 vaccines and provided he continues to support sci.

w'his apparent recovery from covid-19 due perhaps in pt to receiving an experimental monoclonal antibody cocktail from regeneron, trump’s attention has turned to touting this treatment as a “cure” and promising its availability to all americans. an antibody-based treatment does deserve + sci attention, but a therapeutic aint a cure. if an eua for this treatment is anncd, the sci community needs hahn to resist trump’s pressure to exaggerate and declare the pandemic over. these antibodies are helpful but currently in very limited supply and not something thall “get everybody out of the hospitals,” as trump said recently. the sci community must keep the pressure on hahn to state the sci clearly.

readers who don’t think sci and its publishing ps ‘d write bout politics often tell us to “stick to sci.” we're sticking to sci, but + primordially, we’re sticking up for sci.

original content at: sci.scimag.org…
authors: thorp, h. h.

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