By Arul Lous
As the US was preparing for the final approval of COVID-19 vaccines and distribution, the politics behind it reached a new level with President Donald Trump threatening to withhold them from New York state because Governor Andrew Cuomo had been a sceptic of his plan to speed up their availability. Cuomo has said that he doesn't trust the federal government and would set up his own panel to approve the vaccine. And Trump said on Friday that the state won't get the vaccine till he says that he is ready to distribute it.
Trump called the development of the vaccines in less than a year the "single greatest mobilisation in US history, pioneering developing and manufacturing therapies and vaccines in record time". The programme called Operation Warp Speed to quickly develop and distribute coronavirus vaccines was put down by many Democrats, who will now have to rely on it to stop the spread of the disease. At his briefing at the White House on Operation Warp Speed, Trump said about New York: "We can't be delivering it to a state that won't be giving it to its people immediately. As soon as April the vaccine will be available to the entire general population with the exception of places like New York state where for political reasons the Governor decided to say... he wants to take his time with the vaccine."
Cuomo, one of the harshest critics of Trump's handling of the pandemic, said in April: "Frankly, I'm not going to trust the federal government's opinion and, therefore, would set up a state panel of experts to review the vaccines.
After Trump's threat to withhold the vaccine to the state, Cuomo told CNN: "As soon as the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) approves it, we will have our panel approve it, seven other states will review it. There will be no delay," he added, accusing Trump of "bullying" New Yorkers.
Watch: Donald Trump threatens to deny vaccne to New Yorkers
Trump mentioned April 2021 as the time when it would be available to the general population but all signs are that he will be out of office and Biden will be running the federal administration. However, Operation Warp Speed Chief Adviser Moncef Slaoui said at Trump's briefing that about 20 million could get vaccinated next month itself.
This week, Pfizer announced that its vaccine had achieved a success rate of 90 per cent in clinical trials. It is likely to approach the FDA for emergency use approval.
Results from the trial of another vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca is expected soon and it may also be fast-tracked for FDA approval.
Scepticism about the vaccine was politically fomented by some Democrats like Cuomo because Trump was trying to get it out before the election in a bid to show he was on way to vanquishing the virus that originated in China.
Pfizer tried to put a distance between its vaccine and Operation Warp Speed claiming it was not a part of the programme. It made the announcement about the success with the vaccine trial only after the election. Although it had not received funding for research, it did make a $1.95 billion deal with the Trump administration for supplying the vaccines and Trump called Pfizer's denial an "unfortunate misrepresentation".
Polls have found that large numbers of Americans will refuse to be vaccinated. A Gallup poll in September and another in October by CNN reported that only half of all Americans would take the vaccine as a steep cost of playing politics.
After members of his own party have created a scare about the vaccine, Biden and his COVID-19 panel led by former Surgeon General Vivek Murty will have to convince Americans to get vaccinated if they are to contain the pandemic.
Trump took a swipe at the Democrats, asserting: "If you had a different administration with different people, what we've done would have taken, in my opinion, three, four or five years that it would have been in the FDA forever."
In another political twist, the transition team of Democrat Joe Biden, who has been projected the winner of the 2020 presidential election by the media, has said that they were being denied vital information about the pandemic and the vaccines by the administration of Trump, who has refused to recognise Biden as the winner. A second wave of the pandemic is raging across the US and a record-shattering 165,000 cases were reported on Friday with more than 68,000 hospitalisations.
Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for the Biden transition, accused the Trump administration of not sharing vital information about the pandemic with them. Biden said on Friday: "This crisis demands a robust and immediate federal response, which has been woefully lacking. Urgent action is needed "starting with an acknowledgement of how serious the current situation is."