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Why are there so many coronavirus cases in the US? Show more Show less
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The US now has more COVID-19 cases than any other country in the world. But why? The virus has taken hold at an alarming speed, outpacing other nations and leading to questions over its healthcare system, economy, capacity for state intervention and policy priorities. Is its spread symptomatic of other weaknesses?

Poor public health response Show more Show less

The bodies responsible for safeguarding public health and disease control, responded poorly.
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The FDA acted indecisively

The US Food and Drug Administration failed to act in the interest of the population.
America Coronavirus Economics Health Politics Trump

Context

Just weeks before the crisis was known, the FDA leadership changed. The appointment of Dr Stephen Hahn was already controversial in American political circles. The health chief refused to give opinions on key issues such as vaping, and e-cigarettes. In an article for NBC News Professor Vin Gupta described the move as symbolic of the 'profound disregard for the literal health of our nation'.[1]. But the biggest controversy was yet to come.

The Argument

Hahn failed to act as he should have. While public health bodies in other parts of the world were negotiating with private sector firms to expedite coronavirus tests and production lines, Hahn stalled. In South Korea, for example, the government had met with leading pharmaceutical suppliers and relaxed regulations to ensure needs were met. Without prompting, laboratories across the US developed testing devices to detect the presence of Covid in patients. Rather than relax regulations and get these tests out as fast as possible, the FDA stalled. The body insisted that all products go through their drawn out 'emergency use authorisation' procedure, acting as a roadblock to medical progress. As Carrie Arnold describes these measures in National Geographic, 'the FDA’s cautionary impulse did have a chilling effect on laboratory-developed tests'[2]. Stanford, which developed a usable test within days of the first case being announced, were trapped in this lengthy approvals process. Likewise, in medical research facilities across the country. Meanwhile, thousands were infected. By the time these regulations were relaxed in early March, the virus had begun its rapid trail of destruction across the US.

Counter arguments

Stringent FDA approval process certainly slowed the testing process down, but this cannot be blamed for the spread of the virus. Other countries, such as the UK, have not set up testing centres and yet have seen the virus spread at a slower pace to the US. Had the White House intervened and made testing a priority, it is highly likely that this process would have been relaxed some time before. Instead, President Trump lied furiously about the availability of testing - claiming that any citizen who wanted a test could get one whenever they wanted. This was an outright lie: Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University responded to this claim,“The president says anybody who wants to be tested can be tested, but that’s self-evidently not true"[3]. The FDA could have moved at a faster rate. But ultimately, it was following instructions from above.

Proponents

Premises

[P1] The coronavirus would have been slowed with widely available testing [P2] The FDA is in charge of approving tests before they go to market [P3] The FDA did not relax the lengthy approval times before it was too late

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P2] The FDA acts on instructions from the White House [Rejecting P2] The White House did not instruct the FDA to relax its approvals process

References

  1. https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/senate-confirms-fda-head-stephen-hahn-despite-his-silence-vaping-ncna1102106
  2. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/03/why-united-states-coronavirus-testing-failures-were-inevitable/
  3. https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/public-global-health/487521-slow-testing-rollout-sets-back-us-coronavirus-response/

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This page was last edited on Thursday, 29 Oct 2020 at 10:13 UTC

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