US lawmakers grilled health officials about COVID-19 vaccines and whether Trump's word about their development can be trusted

By Sarah Al-Arshani

Lawmakers on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee grilled Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams about COVID-19 vaccines and President Donald Trumps claims that one could be ready before the election. 

Collins disagreed with Trump's assessment that a vaccine would be available by November. 

"Will it be done by a certain date? I could not possibly tell you right now because I don't know what's going to happen in the coming months," he said. "I do have cautious optimism that by the end of 2020, at least one of these vaccines will have emerged and turned out to be safe and effective.

"But even that is a guess, and certainly to try to predict whether it happens on a particular week before or after a particular date in early November goes well beyond anything that any scientist right now could tell you and be confident that they know what they're saying," Collins continued

Adams also said that the decision on a vaccine will be made based on science.  

"There will be no shortcuts. This vaccine will be safe, it will be effective or it won't get moved along," Adams said.

The New York Times reported that the hearing came as there was concern that Trump would apply political pressure to ensure a vaccine is approved to give himself a boost as he seeks re-election, and whether the push would discourage people from getting the vaccine. 

"I'm not sure I know the answer to that question," Collins responded when Sen. Elizabeth Warren asked if Trump's misinformation about the vaccine could influence people's reluctance to get the vaccine. 

When Warren asked him again, he said, "I just hope Americans will choose to take the information they need from scientists and not from politicians."

On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious-disease expert, also said a coronavirus vaccine probably won't be ready before the election.

Trump has repeatedly suggested that the vaccine would be ready this year and recently suggested that one could be ready before the election. 

"We're going to have a vaccine very soon. Maybe even before a special date. You know what date I'm talking about," he told reporters on Monday

CDC Director Robert Redfield sent a letter asking governors to be ready to distribute a vaccine by Nov. 1 by fast-tracking permits and licenses so that vaccine distribution sites can be up and running just two days before the election. 

"CDC urgently requests your assistance in expediting applications for these distribution facilities, and, if necessary, asks that you consider waiving requirements that would prevent these facilities from becoming fully operational by Nov. 1, 2020," the letter said. 

Three companies are in late-stage clinical trials, two of which are expected to have enough volunteers for their phase 3 trials by the end of September, according to Fauci.

On Tuesday, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris issued a statement asking Trump to "assure the American people that politics will play no role in the approval and distribution of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine."