Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham said on Monday night that he would be “hesitant” to get a coronavirus vaccine if it is approved by the end of the year, raising concerns about potential political interference with the approval process.
“Yes, I would be hesitant, but I’m going to ask a lot of questions. I think that is incumbent on all of us right now, in this environment, with the way we’ve seen politics intervening in Washington,” Cunningham said during a debate against Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisOn Paycheck Protection Program, streamlined forgiveness is key Poll shows Biden and Trump neck and neck in North Carolina Democrats hold lead in Arizona, North Carolina Senate races: poll MORE (R-N.C.).
As part of the approximately hourlong debate, they were asked by WRAL anchor David Crabtree, who was moderating, if they would be willing to get a vaccine if one was approved by the end of the year, which he noted “could mean condensing timelines from years to months … with compromises and risks.”
Tillis said he would, but Cunningham said he would have “questions.”
“I think we have seen entirely too many times, and especially in recent years, politics intervening in what should be driven by health and science,” Cunningham said. “Historically and traditionally, I would support and have confidence in the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] and the processes that they go through to approve a drug. But we have seen an extraordinary corruption in Washington.”
Asked again about a vaccine after the debate, Cunningham said he was trying to ensure “due diligence” but indicated that if health professionals signed off, he would take it.
“If they sign off, free of politics, then I’ll take that vaccine. I won’t hesitate,” Cunningham told reporters, according to a transcript provided by his campaign.
President TrumpDonald John TrumpCrowd aims ‘lock him up’ chant at Obama during Trump rally Nevada governor: Trump ‘taking reckless and selfish actions’ in holding rally Michigan lieutenant governor blasts Trump coronavirus response: He ‘is a liar who has killed people’ MORE suggested earlier this month that a COVID-19 vaccine could be ready before Election Day, raising concerns among Democrats, public health officials and scientists that he could try to rush the process to improve his reelection prospects. Both top health administration officials and drug companies have tried to reassure the public that politics will not influence the timeline for a vaccine.
Cunningham and Tillis faced off in their first debate Monday as part of the battleground Senate race. The contest is rated by political handicappers as a toss-up, though recent polls have shown Tillis trailing.
Tillis, during Monday night’s debate, called Cunningham’s hesitancy to get an approved vaccine this year “irresponsible.”
“We just heard a candidate for the U.S. Senate look into the camera and tell 10 million North Carolinians he would be hesitant to take a vaccine. I think that that’s irresponsible. … We are not going to release a vaccine that does not have the effectiveness and safety that the gold standard of the FDA requires,” Tillis added.
The coronavirus and the government’s response to it were major focuses of Monday night’s debate. More than 186,400 North Carolinians have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, and nearly 3,100 have died, according to New York Times data.
GOP outside groups quickly seized on Cunningham’s remarks.
“This fringe anti-vaccine conspiracy theorism doesn’t even belong in the darkest corners of the internet, let alone a debate stage for a seat in the greatest deliberative body in the world,” said Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund, a group with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden marks anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, knocks Trump and McConnell Battle over timing complicates Democratic shutdown strategy Economist Moore calls on Pelosi, Schumer to ‘get a deal done’ amid stimulus stalemate MORE (R-Ky.).
–Updated at 10:06 p.m.