Jul 26, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump goes all in on vaccines and therapeutics

Trump hugging syringe

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Top Trump advisers and GOP leadership have told the president in recent weeks that he needs to switch gears on the coronavirus and go all in on messaging about progress on vaccines and therapeutics.

The big picture: The goal is to try to shift the focus of the election conversation to who would be better at reviving the economy. Administration officials say this is a key reason Trump restarted his briefings this week and that this rhetoric will only accelerate in the weeks to come.

Why it matters: White House and Trump campaign officials have been in panic mode over recent polls showing Trump trailing Joe Biden in swing states just 100 days away from the election.

  • They see this new strategy of leaning hard into the progress on therapeutics and vaccine R&D as the fastest way to restore confidence in Trump and avoid having the election be a referendum on his handling of the pandemic.

The plan: When scientists and health care researchers make big strides on vaccine and therapeutic development, the White House wants Trump at the podium, delivering the good news himself.

  • He'll also largely continue to deliver these messages alone.
  • Two administration officials said this is a deliberate choice. The White House wants Trump to speak directly to the American people and have them make no mistake that this is coming from him — not Dr. Deborah Birx or Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The message: Trump will assert that, under his leadership, the coronavirus task force has helped make major advancements in the ability to treat COVID-19.

  • On therapeutics: "If you get ill from COVID, you have a significantly lower chance of getting seriously ill or dying since we have remdesivir, convalescent plasma, and steroids to treat the virus — which we didn’t have in the early stages of the outbreak," a White House official said.
  • On vaccines: "We are making significant progress on a vaccine and working simultaneously on a distribution plan so that when we reach it we can get it to hundreds of millions of people immediately," the official told Axios.

What we're hearing: "I think it's pretty clear to everyone that getting a vaccine, getting therapeutics that work is the golden key to unlocking the economy and stopping the crisis," a source close to the Trump campaign told Axios.

  • "The polling has been clear on this stuff. People want Trump to take it seriously. And I do think this past week was probably the first week in a couple of months since the [George] Floyd protests started where I thought Trump won every single day of the week."

Reality check: It's nearly impossible that a vast majority of the public will have access to a vaccine by 2021, let alone before the election. And that assumes a vaccine proves to work, Axios' Bob Herman writes.

  • Therapeutics are still in development, and many have shown promising leads. But the timeframe for getting these to market before Nov. 3 is a very ambitious goal, and none — including remdesivir — have come close to presenting a cure to the virus.
  • In the absence of a vaccine or more effective treatments, the main way to save lives and slow the spread of the virus is still through masks, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings and a slow approach to reopening businesses or schools — the steps Trump has resisted, Axios’ Sam Baker notes. Unless those gain more traction, cases and deaths will continue to pile up.

The bottom line: "If he can keep having these types of weeks, where he stays on message and offers people a light at the end of the COVID tunnel, he's gonna be in a lot stronger position to win reelection than I think a lot of people think right now," an administration official said.

  • But keeping Trump on message has never been an easy feat, and a lot can happen between now and November.
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