VACCINE WHEN — President Donald Trump promised on Thursday to “slash red tape like nobody has even done it before” to develop a coronavirus vaccine. It’s a reassuring message, but moving too fast could backfire.
Public health officials and scientists with decades of experience in the field say a vaccine developed without proper testing raises the risk of harmful side effects and could boost anti-vaccination sentiment in the U.S. That in turn could put the government in a pickle: Rush a vaccine to the masses without the usual processes and protections or slow it down to make sure it actually works.
Reality check — Trump advisers say a vaccine is a year to 18 months away, and even that is ambitious. On top of that, public health officials usually take more time to vet vaccines targeted at millions of people.
History offers plenty of reason to be cautious. A massive campaign to vaccinate against the 1976 swine flu flopped when the disease turned out to be mild, but hundreds of people suffered a rare nerve disorder after vaccination. And a vaccine used in some European countries against H1N1 flu in 2009 led some people to develop the sleep disorder narcolepsy.
How anti-vaxxers win — If any eventual vaccine harms even a tiny percentage of those who get it, “the anti-vaxxers can set back not only this vaccine but all vaccines,” said Barry Bloom, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. The anti-vaccine movement has been growing in the United States, and contributed to the country’s worst measles epidemic in 27 years in 2019.
Any president must show the full power of the government is behind the search for a vaccine. While vaccine development is not conducive to political pressure or a runaway pandemic, in this case many people may be eager to accept possible side effects in exchange for a shot that will keep them from getting Covid-19 or spreading the virus. Experts say the vaccine types with the best chance of early approval seem safe, though none has been licensed for human use.
Then there’s the question of drugs to treat people who already have the illness. The president called himself a "big fan" of an unproven coronavirus treatment today and contradicted his own top health officials on how much is known about the drug's potential to help at least some patients affected by the pandemic. “It is very effective. It is a strong drug,” Trump said at the televised briefing today, referring to a malaria drug that is in the early stages of being tested against Covid-19. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci and other White House task force members appeared uncomfortable as Trump repeatedly hailed the drug's promise, Alice Miranda Ollstein reports.
Welcome to POLITICO Nightly: Coronavirus Special Edition, a nightly intelligence brief from our global newsroom on the impact of the coronavirus on politics and policy, the economy and global health. Reach out: [email protected] and @renurayasam.
VIRTUAL WELLNESS — The pandemic has prompted federal officials to knock down the barriers to telehealth, Mohana Ravindranath tells us. For now, telehealth is helping providers manage a rush of patients — especially those who aren't seeking coronavirus care, save protective equipment and reduce exposure. But telehealth advocates are crossing their fingers that temporarily suspended regulations and higher reimbursement rates are here to stay.
“There’s a hope that the surge will prove to policymakers that telehealth is worth the investment,” Ravindranath said.
The federal government has been hesitant to let Medicare patients meet with doctors through video screens, though private insurers gradually have expanded their coverage. Payers and policymakers were largely concerned that making the service widely available would drive up costs as people were more apt to log on than visit a doctor in person. And some studies show that doctors may overprescribe drugs in virtual visits. Plus, the video chat platforms must be private and secure.
Mental health providers are hoping that federal officials make behavioral care even easier to access virtually, by boosting payment rates and expanding access beyond what was in the emergency guidance.
“A lot of people are experiencing anxiety over the pandemic, but can’t leave their house for care,” said Ravindranath.
Do you work for a hospital? Tell us what you're seeing in the coronavirus response. POLITICO is tracking hospital capacity, patient surge and health care workers' ability to obtain personal protective gear — and how it's affecting their own health. Tell us about your experiences and your institution's response, and please share this with any colleagues who may be interested.
What’s the point of moving Tax Day to July 15? Who and how does this help?
“As businesses deal with a sudden decrease in consumers, liquidity has quickly become an issue. Stretched business budgets are bleeding, impacting individuals as layoffs increase quickly. By allowing individuals and businesses affected by the virus to hold on to cash, their budgets and their businesses can stay afloat in the short term. Delays have allowed VITA clinics and CPA offices to close, and it can allow the Internal Revenue Service to shift its operations to do more remote work, helping to limit the virus’s spread.” — Nicole Kaeding, vice president for policy promotion at the conservative National Taxpayers Union Foundation
“Delaying tax day will help people who can’t leave their house right now to get to their tax accountant’s office, or who don’t have the resources they need to file because the IRS’ Taxpayer Assistance Centers have been temporarily closed. It will also be helpful to people who expect to owe money to the IRS but who may have trouble paying their tax bill right now because they are out of work — though most people receive tax refunds upon filing. And it will be helpful to the IRS because staffing at return processing centers has been dramatically reduced in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19.” — Carl Davis, research director at the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, as told to tax reporter Bernie Becker
Correction: We misidentified Ryan Costello in Thursday’s edition. He is a former U.S. representative.
POLITICO is monitoring how many Americans have been tested in all 50 states with the help of The COVID Tracking Project — a volunteer-run accounting of every coronavirus test conducted in America. Our live tracker updates continually with the latest numbers across the country as they come in.
$1.5 billion — The amount of trade that goes on between Mexico and the U.S. every day that could be affected by the partial border closure aimed at containing the spread of the novel coronavirus. Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said the administration is working to minimize impact: "We will continue to maintain a strong and secure economic supply chain across our borders."
FIRST LOOK: KEEPING SCORE — The president loves to keep score, whether boasting about his TV ratings or his electoral college votes. He’s used the same playbook during the coronavirus crisis, Anita Kumar reports, with mixed results.
CLOSE TO HOME — Dozens of federal agency staffers are among those infected with Covid-19. But the administration has yet to outline a uniform policy on how it is handling the grim march of the virus within its own ranks. Instead, each agency is coming up with guidance for its employees, leading to a jumble of messages that has angered federal workers.
Virus hits VP’s office: A staffer in Vice President Mike Pence’s office tested positive for coronavirus, Pence’s spokeswoman said today. The staffer had no close contact with the vice president or president.
LIGHTNING PACE — The Senate is moving with blazing speed to ink a deal on a $1 trillion package designed to blunt the economic fallout from Covid-19 tonight. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising a vote as soon as Monday. The chamber normally moves at a glacial pace, but the urgency of the crisis coupled with lawmakers’ own fear of exposure is causing the agency to move with historic speed.
Still there are some speed bumps ahead. Senate Democrats already have raised concerns with the GOP proposal, saying it benefits businesses and industries while not doing enough for working people, like expanding paid sick leave and unemployment insurance. And some Republicans are balking at proposals to give direct cash payments to most Americans. But the lawmakers plan to work through the weekend to draft the agreement into a bill.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST — Two Republican senators are under fire for allegedly using inside information gained through Covid-19 briefings to dump stocks before markets tanked. North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr defended the sales, arguing he used public information to make the decision, but he’s asking the Senate ethics committee to review the transactions to quell a political crisis. Georgia Republican Kelly Loeffler also sold off more than $1 million in stocks in the days and weeks following a private coronavirus meeting and bought shares in a teleworking software company.
CANCELED FUNDRAISERS AND DELAYED PRIMARIES — The coronavirus is upending 2020 races across the country. Donor gatherings and voter facetime is the lifeblood of political campaigning. But the pandemic is forcing the cancellation of big-ticket fundraisers and campaign events and causing states to delay their primaries. Indiana today became the seventh state to push its primary back. Small dollar donations are also being hard hit by layoffs and shortened work hours.
Democrats may have more to lose. While Trump has a well-stocked war chest, the tanking election is hurting the Democrats’ ability to raise money. And delayed primaries will only drag out the Presidential nominating contest unless Bernie Sanders concedes.
DEATH TOLL — Grim news out of Italy: More than 600 people died in a 24-hour period. The country’s death toll has spiked to more than 4,000 since the outbreak started last month. Evidence from Italy is starting to give researchers a better picture of the nature of the disease. While older adults with underlying health conditions are most likely to die, there are severe cases among people aged 30 to 50. And despite strict lockdown orders, the regional government in Lombardy found by using people’s mobile Internet data that more than 40 percent of the population was still moving more than 300 meters away from their homes every day.
The next Italy? Experts, meanwhile, are sounding the alarm that Spain is poised to become the next hard hit European country. They say the trajectory of the illness in Spain is a week behind Italy despite strictly enforced lockdown orders which include unpopular bans on jogging and cycling. It’s proving to be a trial by fire for newly elected Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
DRAWN INTO A NEW NORMAL — As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the globe, people are finding community where they might not have looked previously, even as isolation and unemployment grow. POLITICO reached out to dozens of artists worldwide and asked them to draw what they’re seeing and feeling during this unprecedented world crisis.
Did someone forward you this email? Sign up here.