This week, senior officials from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took the unusual step of issuing a statement saying the department’s work on a COVID-19 vaccine approval would be based in science and free from political interference. In an opinion column in USA Today, eight FDA directors stated that they would work with FDA leadership to ensure that their decisions are “guided by the best science” and not political pressure. “We absolutely understand that the FDA, like other federal executive agencies, operates in a political environment. That is a reality that we must navigate adeptly while maintaining our independence to ensure the best possible outcomes for public health.” They continue, “Maintaining the American public’s trust in the FDA is vital. If the agency’s credibility is lost because of real or perceived interference, people will not rely on the agency’s safety warnings.”
While the Trump administration was not mentioned, the op-ed was likely in response to recent political pressure on the agency to approve a COVID-19 vaccine prior to the November elections. The statement comes on the heels of one company pausing its vaccine development. AstraZeneca recently announced it was temporarily shutting down its Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trials after a participant began to experience adverse neurological symptoms.