- In a document obtained Wednesday by The New York Times, CDC Director Robert Redfield instructed state and local health officials to be ready to distribute COVID-19 vaccines as soon as Nov. 1, two days before the 2020 Elections.
- The following day, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the projected goal has “nothing to do with elections,” but concerns from health experts have persisted because President Donald Trump has repeatedly pushed for a vaccine ahead of the elections.
- Health officials have also expressed hesitation that adequate data will be available by next month, with Dr. Anthony Fauci saying that a vaccine by that time is “conceivable” but unlikely.
CDC Pushes Nov. 1 Vaccine Release
Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has instructed state and local health officials to prepare to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine as early as Nov. 1.
The information was obtained by The New York Times Wednesday from a CDC document. In that document, which is dated Aug. 27, Redfield told health officials to prepare to distribute up to 3 million doses of vaccines by the end of next month, 20 to 30 million by the end of November, and 35 to 45 million by the end of the year.
In a separate document also released Wednesday, Redfield urged states to begin developing plans for how to proceed with early vaccinations. That includes determining which groups should be prioritized for the vaccine. Health-care workers and other at-risk groups would likely be up first.
Redfield said that the CDC “if necessary, asks that you consider waiving requirements that would prevent these facilities from becoming fully operational by November 1, 2020.”
Are the CDC and FDA Rushing a Vaccine for Election Day?
The November 1 goal, just two days before Election Day, has raised questions and concerns from experts, as many are worried that such a date might not be feasible.
Thursday morning, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar denied that the CDC’s goal date is politically motivated.
“It has nothing to do with elections,” Azar told CBS News. “This has to do with delivering safe, effective vaccines to the American people as quickly as possible and saving people’s lives. Whether it’s Oct. 15, whether it’s Nov. 1, whether it’s Nov 15, it’s all about saving lives but meeting the FDA standards of safety and efficacy.”
Criticism and concern that that President Donald Trump is pressuring agencies like the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration to rush a vaccine by cutting corners is nothing new.
Both Trump’s admiration for hydroxychloroquine and plasma recovered from COVID-19 patients have been called into question, as neither have been proven to be safe and effective. Trump has also openly said that a vaccine could be ready as early as Election Day.
On Sunday, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn told the Financial Times that the FDA could authorize a vaccine before clinical trials are completed.
“It is up to the sponsor to apply for authorization or approval, and we make an adjudication of their application,” Hahn said. “If they do that before the end of Phase 3, we may find that appropriate. We may find that inappropriate. We will make the decision.”
While Hahn indicated that benefits would still need to outweigh risks for that to happen, his willingness to do so — coupled with the previous concerns — led many to question whether he is potentially skirting the scientific process because of the president.
Still, Hahn has denied that his statement means the FDA will submit to Trump’s pressure.
Why There Is Concern About Vaccines Being Rushed
Hydroxychloroquine and plasma are therapeutics. While evidence of their safety and effectiveness is still important, therapeutics are generally given to people who are already sick and might not have any other options.
Vaccines, on the other hand, are given to people who are healthy to keep them from getting sick, so scientists need to have a much higher standard of proof that they’re safe.
There are currently three in the U.S. that have entered Phase 3 trials: the Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines. Of those, Moderna is still in the process of recruiting subjects, and it’s unknown when it could start showing results.
AstraZeneca began its Phase 3 trial Monday, with the full experiment expected to last eight weeks because its vaccine must be given in two doses, each given a month apart. The company has stated that it does not expect preliminary results until around Thanksgiving.
Thus, as many experts noted to the Associated Press, they do not understand how adequate data will be available by Nov. 1 to prove that these two vaccines are safe and effective.
“Being ready is reasonable. Cutting short phase 3 trials before you get the information you need isn’t,” Dr. Paul Offit, an immunization expert who sits on the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, told the outlet.
Is a Vaccine by Nov. 1 Possible?
It is possible that some preliminary results might be available as soon as next month. For example, Pfizer has said that it’s on track to seek government review in October.
On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told Kaiser Health News that clinical trials could be stopped early if they provide overwhelmingly positive results that show a vaccine is safe and effective.
Fauci said scientists would have a “moral obligation” to make the vaccine available to all participants in the study if that were the case, thus speeding up that vaccine’s ability to hit the public.
“If there are a certain amount of infections within a particular trial, it’s conceivable that you could have [a vaccine] by October, but I don’t think that’s likely,” Fauci told CNN on Thursday.
See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Politico) (Associated Press)
Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena
The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.
Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.
The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.
In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.
Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.
Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee.
That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.
After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.
Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.
Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts
The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.
It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same.
The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively — are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.
Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.
As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.
Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)
Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December
The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.
Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily
The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.
The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.
After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.
The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday.
The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.
“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.
The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession.
Major Hurdles Remain
While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.
Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain.
Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.
Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.
Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.
Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.
Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.
In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul.
As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported.
It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent
California is now the eighth state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent after it temporarily adopted the policy for elections held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
CA Approves Universal Voting by Mail
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Monday requiring every registered voter in the state to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election, whether they request it or not.
Assembly Bill 37 makes permanent a practice that was temporarily adopted for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law, which officially takes effect in January, also extends the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election. Voters can still choose to cast their vote in person if they prefer.
Supporters of the policy have cheered the move, arguing that proactively sending ballots to registered voters increases turnout.
“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), said during a Senate committee hearing in July.
Meanwhile opponents — mostly Republicans — have long cast doubts about the safety of mail-in voting, despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that it leads to widespread voter fraud. That strategy, however, has also faced notable pushback from some that a lot of Republicans who say it can actually hurt GOP turnout.
Others May Follow
The new legislation probably isn’t too surprising for California, where over 50% of votes cast in general elections have been through mail ballots since 2012, according to The Sacramento Bee. Now, many believe California will be followed by similar legislation from Democrats across the country as more Republican leaders move forward with elections bills that significantly limit voting access.
Newsome signed 10 other measures Monday changing election and campaign procedures, including a bill that would require anyone advocating for or against a candidate to stand farther away from a polling place. Another bill increases penalties for candidates who use campaign funds for personal expenses while a third measure increases reporting requirements for limited liability corporations that engage in campaign activity.
“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said in a statement.
“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”
The news regarding California came just in time for National Voter Registration day today, giving Americans another reminder to make sure they’re registered in their states. For more information on how to register, visit Vote.gov or any of the other resources linked below.