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Political analysts discuss the importance of COVID vaccine to the presidential election

How much will it help or hurt either candidate if there is no COVID vaccine by the time voters go to the polls?

ATLANTA — Scientists are working at “warp speed” to create a vaccine for COVID-19, but with less than a month to the presidential election, it’s looking less and less like we’ll have one before November 3rd.

It has become a hot topic during this political season. President Donald Trump promised the country would have a vaccine by Election Day.

During remarks in the Rose Garden on May 15, President Trump announced the historic effort to fast-track a vaccine.

“It’s called Operation Warp Speed. That means big and it means fast. A massive scientific, industrial, and logistical endeavor unlike anything our country has seen since the Manhattan Project,” President Trump said. “Its objective is to finish developing and then to manufacture and distribute a proven coronavirus vaccine as fast as possible. Again, we’d love to see if we could do it prior to the end of the year.”

By September, President Donald Trump said the U.S. government could start distributing a coronavirus vaccine as early as October.

“We’re very close to that vaccine as you know and I think much closer than I think most people want to say,” Trump said during a White House press briefing. “We think we can start sometime in October. So as soon as it’s announced we’ll be able to start. That will be from mid-October on. It may be a little bit later than that.”

He later said all Americans could be vaccinated by April 2021.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told lawmakers at the end of September that a vaccine could be available by late spring or next summer.

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"If you are asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of (a) vaccine to get back to our regular life I think we are probably looking at the third – late second quarter, third quarter 2021," Redfield said.

Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden has criticized the President’s timeline for the coronavirus vaccine. In mid-September, he said, “In fact, even if we get a vaccine, it will not be available for most of the population until well into 2021.”

Because of all the back-and-forth, 11Alive sat down with two political analysts on opposite sides of the political spectrum to discuss how this will affect voters at the polls.

Jason Swindle (R) is the founder of Swindle Law Group in Carrolton. He is a criminal defense attorney and an adjunct professor of criminal and constitutional law at the University of West Georgia.

Quinton Washington (D) is a former Magistrate Judge in Fulton County and founder of Bell & Washington, LLP, a civil litigation firm.

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Question: “The question we’re tackling today is ‘How important is a COVID vaccine to this presidential election?”

  • Washington: “I don’t think it’s very important right now because of all the politics surrounding the effectiveness of a possible vaccine. On one side you have Democrats who will be concerned about the science and the harmful side effects in the short and the long term of it. On the other side, many people on the Republican side believe that this is a hoax and it’s not taking place and there are no measures that need to be taken to deal with the coronavirus. So I don’t know on both sides whether people will take the drug.”
  • Swindle: “I have to respectfully disagree with Quinton. I think it’s critically important. What’s important is where we are on Election Day. That we move forward. Are we closer to a vaccine? The closer we get, the better Republicans will fare at the polls. I think it’s maybe the most critical issue that’s going to be in the thought of swing voters’ minds this election.”

Question: The president has often touted that we are very close to having a vaccine that could go out to the public, possibly by Election Day, maybe even sooner he has said. How much will it help or hurt either candidate if we do not have a vaccine by the time voters go to the polls? Do you think that could change a swing voter’s – or an already decided voter’s -- choice?

  • Washington: “Honestly, I think it comes down to where people are concerned in the science behind it. This is where I disagree with Mr. Swindle. The problem is this. People are looking at the fact that people who support the President, the people who work in his administration are coming out and saying that he is trying to manipulate facts surrounding the date. Because of that, that’s going to take away people from thinking you have an effective and unbiased result in getting us to the vaccine. In short, the problem is this: if you don’t believe the salesman, you don’t buy what they’re selling and people don’t believe the salesman we currently have in the President because of the fact there’s so much controversy surrounding what he says.”
  • Swindle: “Well, we’re not going to have a vaccine by election day. Period. And even if we did, it would take months for clinical trials to be completed. It will take possibly up to a year for enough people have the vaccine to where this virus could be eradicated. Republicans are going to vote for President Trump. Democrats are going to vote for Joe Biden. We have a very politicized environment today it’s basically 50-50. But we’ve got the swing voter. When people are in a position where the economy has been bad for six months, they are ready to get back to work, and they are ready to do that fast. When people are sick and dying, they want an answer and they want it fast.  I don’t believe anybody wants this vaccine to come out and for the procedures to be irresponsible, to be pushed through too quickly. The FDA is not going to allow that to happen anyway.”

Question: How many voters do you think are up as swing voters? How many could this actually impact? 

  • Washington: “I think close to none. I don’t think there will be anything that will be earth-shattering to change people’s minds about the current Commander-in-Chief about whether he should stay in office or not be in office, and I think the answer to that question is clear.”
  • Swindle: “There are many voters at stake. There is nothing that can happen that can change the minds of solid Democrats or solid Republicans, but we have a number of swing voters. Swing voters will decide the election.”
  • Washington: “You either believe that the current Commander-in-Chief is -- not even sending dog whistles -- but saying to white militant supremacist groups that it’s OK for you to intimidate and threaten and harass minority voters and minority people in this country. You either believe that he is saying one thing and saying another and those statements are mostly lies. You either believe that he is working for the best interest of the people or not and all of those things have been shown repeatedly throughout the administration. This has all been so much that the American people have never seen from a President of the United States that I think it’s too much. I think people want someone who can calm the country bring us together and move us forward and I don’t think that’s this administration.”
  • Swindle: “With a swing voter who votes Democrat one election and Republican the other, what they’re looking at is this: whoever the candidate is, are they going to make me better off? Or worse off? That’s why I’m hitting this point about the vaccine not needing to be created before the election. I consider this to be a war against the virus. Voters are very reluctant to get rid of that president in the middle of a war. You don’t want to jump off the horse that you run into battle with and choose a new horse in battle. I believe we will be very close to a vaccine in November. I don’t think we will be there yet, but I think President Trump will win this election, but it will be very close.”