Will a COVID-19 vaccine be available this year? President Trump seems to think so — in fact, he told Geraldo Rivera in an interview Thursday it might be ready by Election Day. Though he said he is “rushing it,” Trump hastened to insist he is “doing it not for the election,” but because he wants “to save a lot of lives.”
Be that as it may, the election timing — and possible political benefit — has clearly occurred to him, and he hardly conceals his abhorrence of defeat. But it’s not clear that a vaccine would be an electoral guarantee.
On the one hand, I find plausible a secondary, economic bump for Trump, as is argued in this July article at Fox Business. Before the pandemic, two decades ago or whenever that was, Trump made the economy a major portion of his re-election pitch. Insofar as that’s a strong selling point for keeping him around, a vaccine-induced economic rebound might well win him some votes. It likely would need to be a jobs rebound, though, not merely a rising stock market.
On the other hand, I wonder what the early compliance rate with a COVID-19 vaccine may be. First there are the standard issue anti-vaxxers. A January poll found one in 10 Americans think vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they prevent. Then there are the specific political fears and biases of this situation. On the right, some think the pandemic is wildly overblown and being used to introduce totalitarianism. It’s difficult to imagine anyone who refuses a mask accepting an injection. On the left, I’ve encountered suspicion that Trump and “big pharma” are rushing the COVID-19 vaccine for their own gain. The number of Americans who will refuse “the Trump vaccine” won’t be zero. And still more people will worry, on nonpolitical grounds, about a rushed vaccine’s safety. They might decide to wait a while, just to be sure.
These reasons are how we get survey results saying the vaccine compliance rate might be as low as 50 percent. The Atlantic‘s Yascha Mounk has made a case for greater optimism, however, and he might be right. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to find out sooner than later — maybe even, as Trump hopes, by Election Day. Bonnie Kristian