I am getting very angry at people like Anthony Fauci who say that FDA delay is necessary or useful to alleviate vaccine hesitancy.
Fauci told Fox News that the FDA “really scrutinises the data very carefully to guarantee to the American public that this is a safe and efficacious vaccine. I think if we did any less, we would add to the already existing hesitancy on the part of many people because … they’re concerned that we went too quickly.”
The WSJ says much the same thing just with a slightly different flavor:
…this regulatory rigmarole is essentially a placebo to reassure the public it will be safe to get inoculated.
The ‘we must delay to allay’ argument is deadly and wrong.
First, we should not let public policy be guided by the most risk averse, fearful, and scientifically illiterate among us. Letting the fearful lead is a recipe for stagnation, mediocrity, and eventual collapse. (N.b. these categories are neither mutually exclusive nor perfectly correlated).
Second, there is no guarantee that the risk averse, fearful and scientifically illiterate will be convinced by extra FDA investigation and there is plenty of evidence that they won’t be. Dozens of well-done studies have found no link between vaccines and autism. The scientific evidence that vaccines don’t cause autism is very strong. Yet many people don’t care. Moreover, I bet there is a significant overlap between those who think or fear that vaccines cause autism and those who fear a COVID vaccine. Will a few weeks of extra FDA investigation win these people over? No. More science won’t end science denialism.
Third, rather than alleviating fear, FDA delay may increase fear. People may reason, if the FDA is taking this long to review the evidence when thousands of people are dying every day it must be a hard decision. Delay also makes the vaccine less useful and less obviously useful. Thus, if vaccines come too late people will say that we were reaching herd immunity anyway and that vaccines are useless.
Thus, when thinking about how much investigation the FDA should do before approving a vaccine, allaying fear shouldn’t on the benefit side of the ledger. Greater investigation does have other benefits but I think that the costs of delay exceed the benefits at this time.
The FDA is very unlikely to find reasons not to approve a vaccine later in December. But if that is the case, they should approve now. Note that in August, before the efficacy results were in, I ran the numbers and I said that the case for early vaccination wasn’t strong for most people. Now that we have the efficacy results and months of safety data and a higher death rate, I think quick approval is obviously justified.