Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on 2020 US Elections

BY ANANYA AHLUWALIA

Covid pandemic hasn’t stopped US citizens from showing up to vote in large numbers and long queues, ahead of the election scheduled on November 3. Early voting, in person or by post, is a common practice in the US; it is higher this year than the previous elections of 2016. As of 23rd October, 53 million early votes have already been cast. This shows the high levels of enthusiasm among voters, despite usual voter suppression and special restrictions due to coronavirus. Analysts are expecting a higher than usual voter turnout this year, even amidst the pandemic. Covid-19, contrary to the expectations, has added a lot of enthusiasm and interest in voting in the 2020 elections in the US and watching this play out in the rest of the world. Instead of dampening the presidential campaign in the states in any way, Covid has added unprecedented levels of energy into it.

Gathering rallies might as well be risky, but traditional rallies or tele rallies as part of the campaign of both the parties are taking place full swing, and apart from a few exceptions they have witnessed massive crowds of mostly, maskless people. In the election campaign, the Covid crisis has taken the centre stage. The resultant economic meltdown, health care, inequality and social safety nets have become prime topics of debate between parties even as other crucial issues like trade, immigration and police brutality have been pushed to the back.

As Covid changes the way people vote, and who they vote for, it would be interesting to watch the 2020 US elections for the Covid politics that has taken grip of the nation. The US administration had been initially denying the virus and later downplaying the severity of it with the approaching elections. President Trump has been criticized by his Democratic rival Joe Biden for his poor handling of Covid-19 pandemic as well as his cavalier attitude towards it. A lot of Trump supporters, though they agree on the poor management of Covid still have interesting reasons for supporting him plus not wearing masks (because these two go together). Nowhere in the world have we seen more people not wearing masks than in the US even as it witnessed one of the worst waves of the infection. Wheather masks or face covering offer any protection against Covid-19 is curiously a debate among people in the US, especially since their president himself refuses to wear a mask and has repeatedly cast doubt over the effectiveness of the practice that has been backed by scientists and doctors world over. An amusing politics over mask is playing out in the US.

President Trump has on several occasions over months appeared without a mask in press conferences, engagements and rallies. His election campaign has seen several verbal spats with journalists and mockery of his rival over wearing a mask. The presidential debate too this time was centered around this, with the two candidates exchanging remarks about the Covid protective measure. Some very unscientific remarks related to the illness have been made, such as indicating that the virus would go away on its own and calling the practice of wearing masks voluntary. This has trivialised an essential practice of combating the virus, and risked the lives of millions of people for which the US has already paid a heavy price. Now a second wave of infection is surfacing and with the elections round the corner the situation is worrisome.

There is an urgent need for a vaccine everywhere in the world but in the US it is desperately wanted before the elections. Vaccine developers and manufacturers are under pressure from the administration to bring out vaccines before elections to ensure victory. The development of vaccines usually takes years; perhaps because of the urgency of the situation it has become crucial to develop vaccines as soon as possible. As a result the process has been affected on a large scale, what took years to develop is being anticipated to be developed and manufactured in a matter of months.  Phase two and Phase three clinical trials on human subjects- crucial steps in the process, have been shrunk and fast forwarded to bring out results sooner. On top of this, there is a genuine risk of developers giving into political pressure and hastening the process further and compromising on safety and efficacy, the results of which can be disastrous. This has cast doubt on the credibility of the ongoing trials and has forced leading developers in the American race for vaccines to release their protocols. Leading developers like Astrazeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have all disclosed clinical trial protocols which aren’t typically put out in the public. More developers might take similar steps so as to secure confidence among the peer community and general public as the vaccine too has become a political issue like the mask. The hope is that citizens will not have to pay a price for the former like they did for the latter.

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