With each passing day, there is more reason to think that President Donald Trump’s Food and Drug Administration may issue an emergency use authorization for two or more COVID-19 vaccines in late October. In an ideal world, this would be terrific news. We are, after all, in the grip of a major global emergency. Roughly 1,000 Americans die from the virus every day. A vaccine would save lives.

Yet an emergency use authorization, or EUA, is likely to be met with pervasive skepticism by many Americans, and not only Democrats. The reason isn’t hard to see. Trump has questioned the legitimacy of agencies like the Department of Justice and the FBI, where he sometimes sees threats, and attacked institutions from the judiciary to the post office for what seem to be political purposes.

Now, Trump (and the rest of us) are about to inherit the whirlwind. At precisely the moment when we could benefit massively from public trust in independent agency judgment, our trust is shot. Trump critics distrust Trump and his administration’s agencies, much as Trump himself has somewhat successfully convinced his supporters that there is no such thing as governmental objectivity or independence.

Even if there is good reason for the EUA to be issued and for people who have the opportunity to receive the vaccines to do so, some — perhaps many — rational people aren’t going to trust the FDA enough to make that choice.

Of course, we do not yet have all the data from the preliminary phases of the vaccine trials. But the federal law that authorizes EUAs sets a standard that these trials could well meet. It says that an EUA may be issued when, “based on the totality of scientific evidence available ... including data from adequate and well-controlled clinical trials, if available, it is reasonable to believe that the product may be effective in diagnosing, treating or preventing” the disease in question.

That’s an extremely low bar: that it is “reasonable” to believe that the vaccine “may” work.

The law also imposes a caveat. The “known and potential benefits” of the vaccine must “outweigh the known and potential risks ... taking into consideration the material threat posed” by COVID-19. That burden could also be met, provided that early results don’t show the vaccines harming people who take them.

If the vaccines do qualify for an EUA, based on nonpartisan scientific and public health judgment, they should be made available. That should be true no matter who is president, and regardless of whether Trump will seek to use the EUA announcement for political gain.

Unfortunately, even if the FDA were justified in issuing an EUA, it would be very difficult for much of the public to accept that doing so was based on sound judgment rather than partisanship. That is more or less what happened when an EUA was issued for convalescent plasma therapy in late August. The therapy met the low bar needed for the EUA. Yet the media doubted FDA statements about the efficacy of the treatment. The result was skepticism and further loss of legitimacy.

Vaccines are bizarrely controversial even when there is no pandemic. Anti-vaxxers on the left and the right already express and encourage skepticism about their efficacy and potential dangers. We need more clear thinking about vaccines, not less.

Noah Feldman is a professor of law at Harvard University.

Copyright 2020 Tribune Content Agency.

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