Yglesias on Operation Warp Speed and the Republicans
Here’s Yglesias on Operation Warp Speed and the Republicans:
The debate over Operation Warp Speed wasn’t just a one-off policy dispute. Long before the pandemic, there was a conservative critique that the Food and Drug Administration is too slow and too risk-averse when it comes to authorizing new medications. Alex Tabarrok, a George Mason University economist, wrote about the “invisible graveyard” that could have been avoided if the FDA took expected value more seriously and considered the cost of delay in its authorization decisions.
The pandemic experience validated this criticism, which came to be embraced by some on the left as well — and it was about more than just vaccines. When it came to home Covid tests, Ezra Klein noted in the New York Times in 2021, “the problem here is the Food and Drug Administration. They have been disastrously slow in approving these tests and have held them to a standard more appropriate to doctor’s offices than home testing.”
And yet, just as the invisible graveyard was becoming seen and the debate was being won and just as a historical public-private partnership had sped vaccines to the public and saved millions, the Republicans abandoned the high ground:
…it’s not surprising that Democrats are comfortable with the bureaucratic status quo and hesitant to ruffle feathers at federal regulatory agencies. What’s shocking is that Republicans — the traditional party of deregulation, the party that argued for years that the FDA is too slow-footed, the party that saved untold lives by accelerating vaccine development under Trump — have abandoned these positions.
At the cusp of what should have been a huge policy victory, Republicans don’t brag about their success, and they have no FDA reform legislation to offer. Instead, they’ve taken up the old mantle of hard-left skepticism of modern science and the pharmaceutical industry.
It’s been painful to see all that has been gained now being lost. Libertarian economists and conservatives argued for decades that the FDA worried more about approving a drug that later turns out to be unsafe than about failing to approve a drug that could save lives; thus producing a deadly caution. But now the FDA is being attacked for what they did right, quickly approving safe vaccines. I hope that he is wrong but I fear that Yglesias is correct that the FDA may now get even slower and more cautious.
The irony of the present moment is that there is substantial backlash to the FDA’s approval of vaccines that haven’t turned out to be dangerous at all.
That’s only going to make regulators even more cautious. Right now the entire US regulatory state is taking essentially no heat for the slow progress on the next generation of vaccines, and an enormous amount of heat for the perfectly safe vaccines that it already approved. And the ex-president who pushed them to speed up their work on those vaccines is not only no longer defending them, he’s embarrassed to have ever been associated with the project.
Like I said, it’s a comical moment of Republican infighting. But it’s a very grim one for anyone concerned with the pace of scientific progress in America.