Senior FDA officials defend agency's independence from political influence

Eight top FDA officials promised to maintain scientific integrity in their work and defended the agency's independence from political influence in a Sept. 10 opinion column published by USA Today. 

The directors wrote that "if the agency's credibility is lost because of real or perceived interference, people will not rely on the agency's safety warnings … This is problematic under normal circumstances but especially if we are to ultimately overcome COVID-19."

The piece didn't name President Donald Trump or any other political leaders, but comes amid rising concern that politics are playing a role in approving COVID-19 drugs and could potentially interfere in a future COVID-19 vaccine approval. 

Sixty-two percent of American adults reported in a recent poll feeling worried that White House political pressure will cause the FDA to rush its COVID-19 vaccine approval process, jeopardizing safety and efficacy. Fifty-four percent of American adults have said they wouldn't get a COVID-19 vaccine if one gains FDA approval before the presidential election. 

"We absolutely understand that the FDA, like other federal executive agencies, operates in a political environment," the FDA directors wrote. "That is a reality that we must navigate adeptly while maintaining our independence to ensure the best possible outcomes for public health."

The directors concluded by saying: "We want the American people to know that the FDA's 17,000 plus career staff will continue to work to the best of our ability on their behalf, and with their health and well-being as our beacon."

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, said Sept. 10 on Twitter that the directors had taken the initiative to write the column and that he "wholeheartedly" agrees with them. 

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