Will Trump’s “October surprise” be a deal with Putin to supply the United States with Russia’s untested COVID-19 vaccine?

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I believe that Donald Trump could attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in November by announcing a deal with Russia to supply the United States with a Russian-developed COVID-19 vaccine as early as next month. In my opinion, the chances that such a deal is in the works are high enough that reporters should try to smoke it out at Trump’s next press conference — so that the idea can be killed before it goes any further.

Here is what we know:

  • Trump is desperate to salvage his fading chances of being re-elected. He is indifferent to any other concern, including the well-being of Americans, as he has demonstrated by his gross mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Russia is aggressively promoting a vaccine that it has developed, promising to begin “industrial production” in September with mass vaccinations as early as October. Reports have surfaced that countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, India, Egypt, and Algeria already are arranging to purchase the vaccine.
  • Trump and Putin have had a series of private telephone calls over the past several months, the contents of which generally have not been disclosed. The most recent one apparently occurred on July 23rd. White House spokesman Judd Deere said that Trump and Putin “discussed efforts to defeat the coronavirus pandemic while continuing to reopen global economies.” I have no doubt that the subject of the imminent approval of the Russian vaccine came up.
  • Trump repeatedly has said that the United States could have a vaccine before the election on November 3rd. It is a prediction that no American scientist has been willing to make.
  • The Russian vaccine was approved by Russian authorities without completing what is called a Phase 3 study, which usually involve tens of thousands of people and is the only accepted way to prove that a vaccine is both effective and safe. Western countries that have the pandemic under reasonable control — which does not include the United States — will not be tempted to make guinea pigs of their citizens.
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A scenario in which both Trump and Putin emerge as heroes is a dream come true for both of them. We do not know the full explanation for Trump’s fealty to Putin — i.e., the exact nature of the quid pro quo or the hold Putin has over Trump — but at this point we know for certain that such fealty exists.

Any harm to the United States population from an untested vaccine would come after the election. At which point, it would not matter at all to Trump, whether re-elected or not.

It seems extremely unlikely that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would approve the vaccine for use in the United States. It is far less unlikely that Trump would try to override the FDA.

Any proposal to use a vaccine that has not successfully completed a Phase 3 study would be furiously opposed by the medical and scientific community in this country. They better prepare for the fight, because it seems almost certain that the proposal is on the table, and there may be no one left in the White House with the knowledge or integrity to try to dissuade Trump from pursuing the deal.

I do not call this idle speculation — I call it being forewarned. There is almost nothing that Trump will not do to win in November, and this “October surprise” would be especially dangerous. If it is in the works, better to get it out in the open where it can be derailed before it gains momentum.

Retired lawyer, former prosecutor, former social worker, Army vet — former lots of things. Commentary published in Washington Post, Baltimore Sun and elsewhere.

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