There are plenty of reasons to examine why and how the Food and Drug Administration carried out its responsibilities during the coronavirus pandemic. Was it too slow to approve new drugs? Did it stand in the way of new means of testing?
Those questions and more deserve careful investigation. But for some people, the answers are already clear, and the solution is obvious: we should abolish the FDA.
Reason’s Katherine Mangu-Ward writes:
The FDA screwed up in prohibiting researchers from testing affected populations in the early days of 2020, when the virus might have been better contained upon arrival in the United States. It screwed up in refusing to lift requirements for mask manufacturers and by declining to allow good substitutes for masks in short supply. It screwed up by collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to protect a monopoly on testing tools that ended in a disastrous shortage. FDA staffers tasked with approving both treatments and vaccines screwed up by delaying meetings and taking days off as Americans were dying in unprecedented numbers of a disease for which the agency had potential solutions. At press time, the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was widely available in many other nations, remained unapproved in the U.S., for reasons that are opaque to Americans desperate to resume normal lives.
But this is nothing new. The FDA started screwing up the COVID crisis long before the first bite of bat soup, by suppressing innovation and experimentation that could have better positioned scientists and researchers to prevent the outbreak from becoming a pandemic.
Heady stuff. But what’s the alternative to the FDA?
…the role of the state, if it has one at all, is to protect rights and guard against fraud, not to prevent people from making risky choices. There are many nonstate mechanisms to ensure a safe and effective drug supply. The courts have a role to play here, one that was stunted when the FDA usurped their function in determining where harm or fraud has occurred. Technology to review consumer products is more robust and easier to use than ever, and there are plenty of other industries where private institutions verify and communicate with the public effectively about quality and safety. Without government-granted monopolies and barriers to entry, drugs would proliferate and prices would almost certainly fall, resolving many issues of access.
Old school libertarianism, to be sure. Which also means it’s never going to happen. There is far too much political, intellectual, and financial capital invested in the FDA and its processes to make a complete break.
But that does not mean the agency is above exacting scrutiny for what it did and failed to do, to combat the pandemic. Time for the GAO and the FDA’s own inspector general to get busy.