As we get closer to the rollout of a number of vaccines developed to protect against COVID-19, the next political and cultural battle around how to best respond to the disease is also shaping up.
Republicans have invited a doctor who is a vaccine skeptic and hydroxychloroquine advocate to speak before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday about COVID-19 treatment, reports the New York Times.
Dr. Jane M. Orient is expected to testify against distribution of the coronavirus vaccines that have been recently finalized by Pfizer and Moderna and push for more widespread use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine—which the FDA has warned can cause serious safety issues including heart damage and liver failure.
From the New York Times:
“It seems to me reckless to be pushing people to take risks when you don’t know what the risks are,” Dr. Orient said, adding: “People’s rights should be respected. Where is ‘my body, my choice’ when it comes to this?”
Her selection as a witness as federal health officials are trying to promote a vaccine as a way to end a pandemic that has killed more than 281,000 Americans prompted harsh criticism from Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader.
“At such a crucial time, giving a platform to conspiracy theorists to spread myths and falsehoods about Covid vaccines is downright dangerous and one of the last things Senate Republicans should be doing right now,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement on Sunday.
It’s a strange move from Republicans, since the Trump administration has seemingly abandoned its own zealotry around hydroxychloroquine and has spent the past few weeks championing its role in supporting the development of vaccines for the coronavirus that are over 90 percent effective under Operation Warp Speed.
Dr. Orient heads an association of physicians and surgeons opposed to government involvement in healthcare, though the group has ironically sued the federal government to release its national stockpile of hydroxychloroquine so doctors can prescribe it to members of the public for COVID-19 treatment.
Highlighting Dr. Orient’s opposition to vaccines could be a sign of the battles the incoming Biden administration will have to face from a Republican Party set on disrupting the new president’s plans for governance, including through muddying the already messy conversation about the safety of the coming vaccines.
To be clear: There has been no indication from the government that COVID-19 vaccine treatment will be mandated. President-elect Biden said last week that his focus will be to “encourage people to do the right thing.”