By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – The COVID-19 death toll keeps rising, and so does political conflict over the details of the battle against the pandemic.

At a hearing today of the Senate committee overseeing public health policy, bipartisan appeals for the pursuit of a vaccine to be kept free from political pressure were punctuated by partisan outbursts, including a nasty round of heckling of Dr. Anthony Fauci by Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul.

Fauci and the other assembled leaders of science and health agencies all pledged to be transparent about their vaccine deliberations. But in an interview afterward with WBZ News, committee member Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire) said she and others prefer to trust but verify.

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“Sen. Murkowski and I have a bipartisan bill that would require the FDA and CDC to do the things they committed to doing today, just to take any doubt out of it and to make sure independent scientists and researchers have the last say here,” said Hassan.

But does that bill have a chance of passing the Senate? “We are continuing to work to get support for it,” Hassan said.

Hassan said she’s concerned about polls showing flagging public confidence in a future vaccine, and in the meantime – even in New Hampshire, where infection rates and deaths have been contained – there’s still ample evidence of the toxic effects of virus politicization. The most recent case study – a rally with Vice President Mike Pence in Gilford on Tuesday night, where he acknowledged the somber milestone of 200,000-plus virus deaths in front of a crowd with many maskless onlookers bunched closely together.

“My concern about what I saw at the vice president’s rally last night was a disregard for that science and for that public health concern,” said Hassan.

And while the campaign’s end – if it ever does end – may ease the denial and posturing, you have to wonder if the vaccine might find so many people unwilling to trust it that its effectiveness might be moot.

Jon Keller

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