A major development in the quest for a coronavirus vaccine prompted starkly different reactions from President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden, illustrating just how differently a Biden administration plans to approach the pandemic.
Just two days after news outlets projected that the former vice president had won the 2020 presidential race, pharma giant Pfizer and German biotech company BioNTech announced that its leading vaccine candidate is more than 90% effective in preventing Covid-19 among those without evidence of prior infection.
Trump touted the news almost immediately, firing off an all-caps tweet declaring, “STOCK MARKET UP BIG, VACCINE COMING SOON.”
“SUCH GREAT NEWS!” the president wrote.
Less than an hour later, Biden released a statement through his transition team with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, which injected a note of caution and urged Americans to keep up their ongoing efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Last night, my public health advisors were informed of this excellent news. I congratulate the brilliant women and men who helped produce this breakthrough and to give us such cause for hope,” the statement said.
“At the same time, it is also important to understand that the end of the battle against COVID-19 is still months away. This news follows a previously announced timeline by industry officials that forecast vaccine approval by late November. Even if that is achieved, and some Americans are vaccinated later this year, it will be many more months before there is widespread vaccination in this country,” Biden said.
“Today’s news does not change this urgent reality. Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, contact tracing, hand washing, and other measures to keep themselves safe well into next year. Today’s news is great news, but it doesn’t change that fact,” he said.
Biden had campaigned on a promise to address the pandemic more effectively than Trump, who downplayed the virus for months, frequently disregarded his administration’s social distancing guidelines and repeatedly offered inaccurate assurances about when a vaccine would be available.
In his final swing-state sweep before the election, which involved dozens of rallies before tight-packed crowds of supporters who largely declined to wear masks, Trump made only brief references to the virus.
At the same time, Covid-19 cases had been rising to new record highs.
More than 9.97 million cases have been reported in the U.S., and at least 237,584 people have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The Biden-Harris campaign had previously laid out a step-by-step plan for combating the coronavirus. In his first speech as president-elect Saturday night, Biden said his first priority in office would be to rein in the pandemic.
Earlier Monday morning, Biden’s transition team unveiled his Covid-19 advisory board, to be led by Dr. David Kessler, Dr. Vivek Murthy, and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith.
While Biden intends to quickly quash the threat of the virus, Trump has treated the virus as if it’s already on its way out. The president, in his most recent tweet Monday morning and in his rhetoric on the campaign trail for months, has placed more emphasis on achieving an economic rebound than on tamping down the spread of the virus. He has already drawn a line in the sand against implementing any further lockdown measures.
Even as cases rose toward more than 100,000 per day — a grim milestone that had since been passed —Trump insisted that his administration was “rounding the corner,” a line consonant with his prior assurances that the U.S. would move past the pandemic with or without a vaccine.
Trump has also lashed out at his own public health officials, including the nation’s top epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci. The day before the election, Trump even suggested he might try to fire Fauci, who has refused to sugarcoat his language when discussed the dire threat of the pandemic. Biden has said he would keep Fauci on if elected.
Pfizer’s vaccine announcement sent stock futures ablaze. Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average surged 1,718 points, or 6.1%, before markets opened Monday morning.
The news might have played to Trump’s favor had it arrived before the election. Trump, in his optimistic messaging on the virus, often pointed to the health problems associated with lockdowns along with the economic downsides. A hopeful development in the monthlong fight against the global crisis may have played well among those experiencing “lockdown fatigue.”
But Pfizer’s announcement came just after media outlets, including NBC News, had projected that Biden had defeated Trump, making the Republican incumbent the first president to lose reelection since 1992.
Trump, who was golfing as the news outlets made their calls, is refusing to concede the race. Rather, he has repeatedly claimed he won the election, “by a lot,” and his surrogates have said that they will file new lawsuits related to alleged voter fraud as early as Monday.
There has been no evidence yet presented of widespread voter fraud that could reverse the projected results in they key states that cost Trump a second term.