Opinion | This Is No Way to End a Pandemic

By The Editorial Board

The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.

A year ago, before any Covid vaccine had been authorized for use, former President Donald Trump all but promised that a shot would be available before Election Day. When Food and Drug Administration regulators suggested that he was mistaken, he accused them of deliberately slow-walking their authorizations in an attempt to influence the coming election — and threatened to override them.

At least some segments of the public were outraged: It was not the first time Mr. Trump had interfered with the agency, and health officials warned that his careless remarks would undermine vaccine confidence. The F.D.A. responded forcefully, tightening its review criteria and communicating directly with the public about the changes. The agency’s commissioner, Dr. Stephen Hahn, engaged in a standoff with the president who appointed him, and in the end, public safety was placed above political expedience.

This year, it’s President Biden who has gotten ahead of the F.D.A., announcing a plan to make Covid booster shots available to all vaccinated Americans long before the agency finished its evaluations of the nation’s three authorized vaccines. Rather than push back against this maneuver, acting F.D.A. Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock endorsed it. Two of the agency’s top vaccine regulators resigned in protest, taking with them a wealth of knowledge and experience that will be both urgently needed and difficult to replace in the months ahead.

The kerfuffle has once again undermined an agency that is supposed to be the regulatory gold standard not just in the United States but around the world.

To be sure, the F.D.A. is not the only entity grappling with confusion and contradiction. The world’s largest vaccine makers say they will soon have enough shots to inoculate just about the entire global population, but they can’t seem to get those doses to the lower-income countries that need them most. The leaders of the world’s richest countries, including the United States, say they are committed to global vaccine equity and have collectively pledged to donate hundreds of millions of doses to lower-income countries. But it is not entirely clear how those countries’ current or projected supplies measure up against their promises to share.

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