Washington (AFP)

Two major American public health institutions are accused of bending their backs under pressure from the White House, unprecedented political interference, according to experts, who fear that Donald Trump may force a vaccine to be approved before the presidential election.

For months, incidents have been increasing within the United States Medicines Agency (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), the federal agency on the front line to respond to the Covid pandemic. 19, two organizations that Donald Trump's lieutenants see as hotbeds of resistance against the president's desire to revive the economy.

Senior scientists at the CDC, who brief the press regularly, have been muzzled after sounding the alarm on the coronavirus.

CDC guidelines were amended this summer, apparently under pressure from the White House, to no longer recommend testing asymptomatic people, and to encourage schools to reopen, as Donald Trump demanded.

Then we learned through leaks in Politico that the head of communications for the Department of Health, Michael Caputo, and one of his advisers had been demanding for months to censor scientific studies published in the venerable CDC bulletin, bible of the public health officials, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR), for example a study on the contagiousness of children.

"It is unprecedented for political power in the United States to interfere in the scientific operation of these agencies," denounces AFP William Schaffner, member of the editorial board of the MMWR and professor at Vanderbilt University.

But Michael Caputo, close to Donald Trump, assumes: he accused the CDC of "sedition" on his Facebook account, according to the New York Times, and his experts of plotting "to attack Donald Trump".

- "Culture of fear" -

The FDA was traditionally the most influential health regulator on the planet, but it has lost credibility after two massive cases of political compromise, Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told AFP.

Very critical, he fears the worst for what will be the most crucial decision of the pandemic, in the coming months: the possible authorization of a first vaccine against Covid-19.

In March, the FDA authorized a wider use of hydroxychloroquine, an old anti-malaria drug promoted by Donald Trump, despite the lack of evidence of its effectiveness against Covid-19;

the authorization was revoked in June.

Then at the end of August, at the insistent request of Donald Trump, the FDA urgently authorized the transfusion of blood plasma of people recovered from Covid-19, its leader touting a treatment "capable of saving lives" - an exaggerated assertion and that he then withdrew.

"The FDA will make any decision on the authorization or approval of vaccines against Covid-19 according to science and data," said Stephen Hahn, boss of the FDA, who is now increasing the number of people speaking to ensure that any vaccine will go through the usual independent expert committees.

In fact, the natural course of clinical trials makes it unlikely that results will be known before the election, and the laboratories, which play on their reputation, have no interest in distributing an ineffective vaccine.

But the experts remain suspicious, a fortiori because Donald Trump repeats possible that a vaccine is declared reliable before the election of November 3, and because the boss of Pfizer ensures to await test results before the end of October.

"Unfortunately, I fear a campaign of pressure to authorize a vaccine," said Michael Mina of Harvard.

The two agencies "are enslaved to the White House", summarizes Eric Topol.

"A culture of fear has taken hold."

"If these people had principles, they would resign because they are manipulated or censored, and de facto accomplices," he concludes.

According to the New York Times, experts at the CDC are indeed considering a resignation.

© 2020 AFP