Will an approved COVID-19 vaccine — or several of them — become Donald Trump’s October surprise? Administration critics have accused the White House and CDC of playing electoral politics after the latter sent a letter to states’ health administrations, advising them to ready their distribution channels for one or more vaccines by November 1. Anthony Fauci dismisses the idea that politics are driving the approval decisions, telling CNN’s Jim Sciutto that there are too many independent oversight structures to allow for shenanigans.

As for the timing, Fauci says that a late-October approval is “conceivable,” although he also says that it’s not what he’s expecting to happen:

“I think most of the people feel it’s going to be November, December,” Fauci said in a CNN interview when asked about the possibility of an earlier release, adding a clinical trial could prompt drug developers to decide a vaccine works sooner. “It is conceivable that you can have it by October, though I don’t think that that’s likely.”

Scuitto summarized it on Twitter:

CBS This Morning spoke with HHS Secretary Alex Azar earlier today about the timing of the vaccine, and also about the skepticism with which some people are approaching. Azar isn’t sure when the data will fully report on the vaccine candidates — it might take longer or shorter depending on community transmission rates — but says that they want to move quickly if and when they get data that the candidates are both safe and effective.

CBS’ host takes issue with Azar’s promotion of Donald Trump, and ends up focusing on the politics of the alert and its specific date two days before the election. “It has nothing to do with elections,” Azar responds, saying that “career people” came up with the timeline:

As much as Azar objects to politicizing the CDC alert, it’s inevitable under the circumstances — and he’s just as responsible for it as anyone. Leading off these announcements by hailing Donald Trump is an explicit politicization of the process, just as expressing concerns over an October surprise is. Trump’s declaration during the convention that a vaccine might come ahead of the election also set that tone. Had everyone held their tongue, they could have taken credit after the CDC alert, or better yet, wait for the approved vaccines to show up before doing the back-slapping.

Still, Fauci’s correct — the FDA is not going to approve a vaccine ahead of the data, because they aren’t set up to do that without it being instantly exposed. There are too many people in the loop that would blow the whistle in a heartbeat if that happened. Once the vaccine emerges, or better yet multiple vaccines, the real challenge to deliver them will begin. That’s why the CDC sent out the alert in the first place.