ChrisWeigant.com

October Fizzle?

[ Posted Tuesday, September 8th, 2020 – 16:07 UTC ]

October surprises are supposed to be, well... surprising. It's right there in the name, after all. This year, however, President Donald Trump has already unveiled what he hopes will be his ace-in-the-hole October surprise a few months early: a COVID-19 vaccine announcement, which will likely happen just before Election Day. When this happens, though, it will come as no surprise. Maybe we'll have to come up with a better name for it -- the "prescheduled October event," perhaps? The "October expected announcement"?

Never before has a president telegraphed what he wants to do to sway the election so far in advance. The whole "slow down the mail" plot was uncovered way too early, and announcing a vaccine in late October is not going to surprise anyone at all by the time it actually takes place. Because of all the anticipation, however, it is going to be far less effective than it might have been if it truly were a surprise. With the surprise factor near zero, voters will already have worked out how they feel about Trump announcing a vaccine long before it actually happens.

This isn't the only reason a vaccine announcement is going to be of limited political value to Trump. His initial plan went something like: "announce a vaccine in late October, the public will hail me as the savior from the plague, which will guarantee that I will easily win re-election." However, because Trump just couldn't help himself and essentially announced his plans months before the intended timeframe, this is not likely to happen the way he initially planned it.

In the first place, Trump has overpoliticized the pandemic from the very start. If he hadn't -- if the public wasn't now fighting a culture war over wearing masks, in other words -- then a surprise vaccine announcement would have had a lot more weight. But Trump is being so obviously and nakedly political about such an announcement that few voters now believe that Trump isn't planning such an announcement solely to boost his own political standing. The feeling is that Trump won't care whether a vaccine is ready or not, he'll announce it on his own schedule anyway.

To put it another way, nobody trusts that Trump will follow the science. He hasn't done so yet during the entire pandemic, so why should he start now? Most of his scientists are now also tainted by Trump's politics, from the head of the F.D.A. (who approved hydroxychloroquine essentially because Trump told him to) to the C.D.C. (which has been all but absent in a pandemic response they should have been leading all along). Dr. Anthony Fauci is about the only scientist left who isn't seen as a Trump toady by most of the public.

This week, the major drug companies working on a vaccine put out an extraordinary statement. Although they are all competing with each other over what will be massive profits for the winner of this race, they banded together to swear that none of them would seek approval for a vaccine before the science had fully proven its effectiveness and safety. This is unprecedented, and it is a direct result of the expectations that Trump will prematurely announce a vaccine in October. "Trust us -- we won't play games with the politics," the pharma companies are saying. When has such a statement ever been necessary before now? Never, because Americans used to be able to trust that government scientists wouldn't be compromised by partisan politics.

You can already see this in the polling. The mere fact that these questions are even being asked by pollsters is telling, in fact -- when has an October surprise ever been polled two months before the election? Maybe with Jimmy Carter and the hostage crisis, since there were only a few possible outcomes (even though nothing actually happened before the election). But now the public is being asked things like: "Would you trust a vaccine announced before the election?" and "Would you get vaccinated if Donald Trump assured everyone that it worked?" Even being asked the question influences the public's opinion, because it starts them thinking about what they would do in such a circumstance -- would they rush out to be the first on their block to be vaccinated, or would they perhaps wait a month or two to see if a better vaccine was announced? So far, the public seems pretty skeptical about a Trump-announced vaccine, and that's likely only going to get worse as time goes by.

Even if all of this weren't true, the announcement was never going to be the panacea that Trump is hoping for. Let's say for the sake of argument that Trump hadn't tipped his hand early and that he announced a vaccine approval the last week in October. Because it was a true October surprise, nobody would have been considering how much they were going to trust the announcement before it happened. So everybody would have had exactly the same reaction: "Sign me up! Where do I get my vaccine shot?"

The problem with this scenario -- even though it is the rosiest possible from Trump's perspective -- is that by Election Day a hard truth is going to have sunk in. Approving a vaccine is not the same thing as providing it to everyone instantly. There are over 300 million people in the country, and if (as expected) it takes two doses to work, then that means producing over a half a billion shots. Even though the Trump administration has sunk a lot of money into pre-production -- where vaccines that have yet to be approved are already being mass-produced -- it still isn't going to happen overnight for everyone.

The first vaccine doses will be reserved for frontline workers: doctors, nurses, E.M.T.s, nursing home workers, etc. They're at the most risk, so obviously they all belong at the front of the line. But who will be second in line is more of a question. If the past is any prologue, the federal government will likely not take much of a leadership role in distribution. Or they may do a haphazard job, at best. Think of the lack of any sort of national plan to distribute testing, early in the pandemic. Think also of the wealthy and the sports celebrities who had easy access to tests while others had to wait. That's likely to be repeated with the vaccine. Trump may just try to shove the whole thing off onto the individual governors, which could mean 50 different distribution plans (some better than others, obviously).

This is going to lead to massive frustration, as it becomes obvious that most people are going to have to wait a while to get access to the vaccine. Because of the seriousness of the issue, this will become apparent very quickly. Meaning that before we even get into November, people will already have figured out that Trump's announcement of a vaccine isn't going to mean they'll be able to get vaccinated any time soon. Even in the best scenario -- where everyone was taken completely by surprise by Trump's announcement -- this would mean the announcement's value politically for Trump would be nowhere near what he was planning on. Some voters may even not bother to vote out of sheer frustration, which would cause Trump's October surprise to fizzle, if not backfire.

And remember -- that's in the best-case scenario that now isn't even possible. Trump already undercut it by letting the surprise out of the bag early. Now Democratic voters may not even care about a Trump-announced vaccine, because they'll wait until Joe Biden (or, more likely, Dr. Fauci) says he's convinced by the science. Trump voters will hail "Plague Savior Trump" to the skies, but they would have voted for him anyway. Any remaining undecided voters will likely have a great deal of skepticism over a Trump announcement, mostly because of all the buildup to it (and the naked politics) that is already happening. And just because Trump announces it, that doesn't mean it will be available to anyone the next day or the next week. Making the political impact of such an announcement close to zero.

I guess there's a moral to this story for future presidents seeking re-election: Don't spring the October surprise on the public in August. If, by the time it happens, it is no surprise at all, then it can easily turn out to be an October fizzle instead.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

28 Comments on “October Fizzle?”

  1. [1] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    I don't understand why a vaccine would help him. Why would the president get credit for something that some pharmaceutical company or other does?

    The October surprise is still likely to be some dirty trick.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Even if or when there is a vaccine, Trump has done a pretty good job of ensuring that half the country won't trust a vaccine.

    It would be funny if he wasn't so deadly.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    And, I was referring to HIS half. Ahem.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    And, the other half, probably, too.

    Point being, better start ramping up the public health architecture of testing and tracing, isolating and quarantining, etc. Because this remains the only hope of stopping the virus.

  5. [5] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    There was a guest on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour a week or so ago that said they had developed a paper strip test that provided results in 15 minutes that would show when people were contagious.

    People could be provided with these tests for daily testing before they leave home (and would stay home if they were capable of transmitting the disease to others. He said it would be just as effective as a vaccine at stopping transmittion of the disease.

    And if they can get it approved it could be in use much faster than a vaccine.

    Let's hope the drug companies don't stop this if it can be as effrective as a vaccine because it would not be profitable for the drug companies.

    It would be more likely for the drug companies to not be able to stop it if both CMPs were not dependent on the drug companies for campaign financing.

    Will the polticians be able to look at the medical science over the political science?

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    JFC,

    Have you heard the story of how Keith wrote the riff for Satisfaction? What a great story!

  7. [7] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    I have. To tell the truth, it's one of my least favorite Stones hits though.

  8. [8] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    Death Harris,

    a guest on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour a week or so ago that said they had developed a paper strip test

    Who is they?

    Let's hope the drug companies don't stop this if it can be as effrective as a vaccine because it would not be profitable for the drug companies.

    Why couldn't they charge enough for these strips to effectively make them more expensive and profitable than a vaccine?

    Will the polticians be able to look at the medical science over the political science?

    How will the polticians stop them from selling this game changer?

    It would be more likely for the drug companies to not be able to stop it if both CMPs were not dependent on the drug companies for campaign financing

    Why would companies A, B & C allow company D to bring a vaccine to market before them?

  9. [9] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    LizM [2]

    Even if or when there is a vaccine, Trump has done a pretty good job of ensuring that half the country won't trust a vaccine.

    It's preposterous to believe that a safe vaccine could be available before the election. I've taken flu, shingles, hepatitis, and tetanus vaccines in recent years, but I would not take a coronavirus vaccine in 2020. Way back when, Gerry Ford rushed a swine flu vaccine and people ended up with Guillain–Barré syndrome. That's a nightmarish disease that's worse than the flu or COVID19.

  10. [10] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Re: October Surprise

    My money is still on war (or Trump trying to start a war) with Iran. I always thought that would be something in the Foreign Affairs realm because (1) the "rally around the President" effect that is the only thing that might save Trump's keister, and (2) Trump (to everyone who's not a Trumpanzie) has totally trashed the domestic scene and a supposed last minute vaccine isn't going to unravel that. If two or three hundred thousand dead Americans (come 3 November) could talk and they will talk through the votes of their loved one's votes I'm sure they'd agree with me.

  11. [11] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Hey Elizabeth!

    Break up the Bluejays! They're 24 - 18, sixth best record in the American League, only 3.5 games from having the best record in the AL, aaaand...

    Playoff bound at this rate! Must be something in the water in Buffalo!?!

  12. [12] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    If my Detroit Tigers* just bump it up a notch maybe they'll make the postseason party as well.

    *I was born to live in Californication but I started out in Detroit. So I'm stuck cheering for Detroit for the rest of my days on this mortal coil. Fortunately, I went off the the University of Michigan which has good football, basketball and baseball programs. If I ever had a son Is say, "Son, even if you're not sure what you want to do with the rest of your life, pick a college with strong sports programs because you're gonna be stick with them for the rest of your life!"

  13. [13] 
    Kick wrote:

    Chris Weigant

    The problem with this scenario -- even though it is the rosiest possible from Trump's perspective -- is that by Election Day a hard truth is going to have sunk in. Approving a vaccine is not the same thing as providing it to everyone instantly.

    Exactly this, CW, in the same vein that the approval of a test for SARS-CoV-2 at no time ever meant the Trump outright fabrication:

    Anybody that wants a test can get a test.

    ~ Donald Trump at the CDC in Atlanta, GA, March 6, 2020

    *
    That was always a lie, and anyone dumb enough to believe the utter asinine bullshit spewed out of the Orange Blowhole at this point deserves whatever befalls themselves and their family members if Donald Trump is reelected because they're either too gullible, too ignorant, or too proud to admit the handwriting all over the wall that Donald Trump is a risk to the security of the United States and Americans.

    And just because Trump announces it, that doesn't mean it will be available to anyone the next day or the next week. Making the political impact of such an announcement close to zero.

    Exactly. In the meantime of all the Trump promises of a vaccine in October, AstraZeneca has now paused their global trials due to serious adverse reactions of a trial participant in the UK. I have heard the participant developed transverse myelitis, but this is "as yet unconfirmed" reporting. For those who aren't familiar with the so-called AstraZeneca "Oxford University vaccine," that is indeed the outfit the United States paid $1.2 billion with a promise of 300 million doses of vaccine by October; however, they aren't the only "iron in the fire" of the United States, but they have always been considered by the majority of scientists as the so-called "most promising." But, who knows, the trial has already been halted once before and resumed and could likewise resume in a few days... or not.

    Bottom line: Donald Trump continuing to claim a vaccine is "near" is still utter asinine bullshit and a total con job.

  14. [14] 
    Kick wrote:

    John From Censornati
    9

    It's preposterous to believe that a safe vaccine could be available before the election.

    Exactly. An effective vaccine that is also proven safe for all ages being available before the election is utter nonsensical bullshit because it takes some time to prove a vaccine is both safe and effective, and anyone telling you otherwise is lying to you.

    I've taken flu, shingles, hepatitis, and tetanus vaccines in recent years, but I would not take a coronavirus vaccine in 2020.

    Smart man. Donald Trump didn't even acknowledge to the American people that COVID-19 was a health concern for the United States until mid March 2020 when the Trump administration turned on a dime from claiming the coronavirus was a "Democrat hoax" to claiming they never claimed it was a hoax, yet here we are now with Donald Trump expecting those same Americans to now believe him that a safe and effective vaccine can be delivered to Americans for a disease he claimed was inconsequential 7 months before that time. Yes, Trump believes Americans are gullible as well as ignorant. Worse news is how stupid and gullible many Americans have proven they are.

    Way back when, Gerry Ford rushed a swine flu vaccine and people ended up with Guillain–Barré syndrome.

    Exactly right, JFC, about 2 dozen people were reported to have died from the vaccine, and around 450 people developed GBS:

    The World Health Organization adopted more of a wait-and-see attitude to the virus, writes Kreston. They eventually found that the strain of flu that year was not a repeat or escalation of the 1918 flu, but “the U.S. government was unstoppable,” di Justo writes. They had promised a vaccine, so there needed to be a vaccine.

    This all happened in the spring, with emergency legislation for the “National Swine Flu Immunization Program,” being signed into effect in mid-April. By the time immunizations began on Oct. 1, though, the proposed epidemic had failed to emerge (although Legionnaires' Disease had, confusing matters further.)

    “With President Ford’s reelection campaign looming on the horizon, the campaign increasingly appeared politically motivated,” Kreston writes. In the end, one journalist at The New York Times went so far as to call the whole thing a “fiasco.” Epidemiology takes time, politics is often about looking like you’re doing something and logistics between branches of government are extremely complicated. These factors all contributed to the pandemic that never was.

    The real victims of this pandemic were likely the 450-odd people who came down with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder, after getting the 1976 flu shot. On its website, the CDC notes that people who got the vaccination did have an increased risk of “approximately one additional case of GBS for every 100,000 people who got the swine flu vaccine.”

    https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/long-shadow-1976-swine-flu-vaccine-fiasco-180961994/

    *
    And why did Gerald Ford rush that "swine flu" vaccine in 1976? Because it was a presidential election year where he was the sitting president running for reelection, and he had promised a vaccine.

    There's a reason we study history and learn from it, and here we are with a perfect example. :)

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    JFC,

    I have. To tell the truth, it's one of my least favorite Stones hits though.

    It's just such a great story, though, if true! Let me tell it Sunday night ...

    Satisfaction is one of those songs that works best live but, I love it when it comes on the radio, too. My station has been taking my advice and playing Stones throughout the day in anticipation of the big UNZIPPED event.

  16. [16] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Americans seem incapable of learning from history. But, there is always hope, I suppose. :)

  17. [17] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Not learning from history is a human phenomenon not just an American thang. Please don't lump me in with all the Trumptards in my country.

  18. [18] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Here are a couple of articles from my go-to site for political news, POLITICO. They are boffo long reads that really get down in the weeds.

    The first is their 2020 Election Predictions from President on down to Governors.

    The other is dedicated to EM, Trump running out of time to turn around 2020 campaign.

    Enjoy responsibly.

  19. [19] 
    Kick wrote:

    Elizabeth Miller
    16

    Americans seem incapable of learning from history.

    Some of us are pretty damn informed... so try not lumping us all into one category.

    Thank you.

  20. [20] 
    Kick wrote:

    Donald Trump is an effing negligent homicidal liar.

    I think I know why Bob Woodward called his new book Rage.

  21. [21] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    People can be informed and still not learn from it.

    And people can learn and learn the wrong thing.

    Many people seem to only be able to learn to repeat mistakes. (see people voting for Deathocrats and Republikillers.)

  22. [22] 
    Kick wrote:

    Death Harris
    21

    People can be informed and still not learn from it.

    People can be woefully ignorant with admittedly no experience and little education, yet still for no reason whatsoever prattle on endlessly while repeatedly misinforming others and just making stuff up, and you are the living proof of that:

    I have none of the credentials normally listed in a bio. No degrees, no years of running a successful business and no experience in political campaigns or activism. I am simply an average person that has been working and living at survival mode. But I have the only credentials that I believe really matters. I am a citizen and I have an idea that may improve our political system.

    ~ Don Harris

    *
    And people can learn and learn the wrong thing.

    *laughs* Or in your case, demonstrably never learn a darn thing.

    Many people seem to only be able to learn to repeat mistakes. (see people voting for Deathocrats and Republikillers.)

    Those are just nonsensical names you invented that no one on Earth has ever voted for because they only exist in your ignorant inexperienced fantastical repetitive ridiculous rants.

  23. [23] 
    MyVoice wrote:

    [18] MtnCaddy

    Would this be the boffo long read you meant to reference for 2020 Election Predictions?

    2020 Election Predictions

    I see it was just updated today.

  24. [24] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Today's offering from The Lincoln Project folks, Lindsey Graham, Come on down!

  25. [25] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    [23]

    Yes! It's been good reading along the way.

    Disclosure: It turns out that the other article is a short read.

  26. [26] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    JFC 8-

    DH as usual is woefully misinformed. The test he is going on about is from E25bio. It is a paper based lateral flow immuno assay that specifically tests for the protein envelope for COVID 19. There are about 6 or 7 other paper based lateral flow antigen tests that have been pre-printed but E25bio seems to be the one capturing all of the attention and is also closest to getting an FDA EUA.

    While on the surface the promise of the test looks great they have to overcome some of the loopholes that a "pregnancy test" type of product for home use present, especially when it comes to the required public health reporting and verification of people reporting the test results and following self isolation guidance.

    The other problem is the specificity and sensitivity ratios, currently the FDA is requiring all of the antigen tests meet the same minimum specificity/sensitivity requirements of a PCR test. The problem with this type of rapid lateral flow test is that it requires a viral load of 100k virus copies per millilitre vs the 100 copies of a PCR test. While this means that in theory you could catch people in the asymptomatic transmission stage it's specificity of around 80% means that 2 out of every 10 people could receive a false negative or positive result. While this result is not horrible it does become a game changer as it scales across populations.

    Interestingly the test creators argue that the tests achieve 100 percent specificity when used in a daily fashion. They further argue that while you may have received a negative result one day, you will be found out the next day. While this may hold true it requires that this type of test be deployed at places of business, schools and other places that can run the test in a fashion that ensures proper reporting of health data to ensure self isolation and contact tracing occurs. Without organized administration of the test the whole premise of efficacy relies on human behavior assumptions that people self administering would follow the protocols of daily testing and reporting, which we know from observation of population groups who perceive they are low risk or just plain don't give a care about others is not always going to be the case.

    Where DH gets this whole conspiracy about big pharma stopping this because it could be as effective as a vaccine I have no clue... Especially when one considers that the test creators themselves have stipulated that this is only intended as a bridge test to greatly reduce unchecked community spread and would be another tool public health could use to track virus spread until a vaccine is widely available (which is probably close to two years after the approval date). The test creators also argue that this type of test while requiring multiple test regimes lowers the financial hurdle to getting tests as most PCR tests are running $100-$300 or more dollars depending on how fast you want results and the current rapid tests on the market also run $30-$40 range plus the cost of the analyzing unit. This test would be $1 to $3 bucks a strip and does not have the same supply chain issues that current PCR and rapid tests suffer from.

    When one considers the current administration posture of testing is bad it becomes very readily apparent that this type of affordable easy access test faces a steep uphill battle to get the FDA to change the existing standards to allow for volume over precision tests to come to market.
    TL/DR

    The paper based lateral flow test has great promise for affordable daily testing but has some technical issues to overcome.

    Is in no way being promoted as a vaccine alternative, but is being promoted a volume over precision test tool that is more in line with virus tracking needs of the public health community.

    The FDA needs to change standards to address the viability of volume over precision tests rather than forcing everyone to be a PCR test.

    Big Pharma has nothing to do with stopping this test nor is it in their interest to do so... they will sell the same amount of vaccine with or without this test.

    This write up from The Atlantic gives a great laypersons view of current testing and how E25 envisions change.

  27. [27] 
    Kick wrote:

    MtnCaddy
    24

    Today's offering from The Lincoln Project folks, Lindsey Graham, Come on down!

    Don't even have to click on it, MC, that one is "Parasite." Disgusting commercial... I love it.

    I will leave it to you to post "Trump Knew."

  28. [28] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Here's a Thursday Talking Point Attempt. Ahem.

    Although you Republicans and Conservatives disagree with us on various things that doesn't make you one bit more nor one bit less American than us Democrats and Progressives.You are not our "The Enemy" and we not yours, hello!?

    *****AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION!*****

    Should I chop the "hello!?" or not?

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