SALT LAKE CITY — Both Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams and Burgess Owens, his Republican challenger in Utah’s 4th Congressional District, offered praise Wednesday for President Donald Trump’s push to rapidly develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

Washington’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was a key topic of separate discussions with the congressional candidates during an hourlong virtual University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics “Informed Decisions 2020” forum held midday.

McAdams said the decision to fund the manufacturing of vaccines ahead of federal approval so doses can be distributed quickly if and when that comes through is “one of things that the Trump administration did well.” He said pharmaceutical companies would have been reluctant to take that financial risk.

“The government stepped in here to say there’s a societal interest, and an economic interest, in shortening the window from when the vaccine is developed to when it is wide-scale deployment. So we said, ‘Look, we’ll pay for it and if the vaccine doesn’t work, then ... the company’s not on the hook,” the freshman congressman said.

Republican Burgess Owens, a former NFL player, left, and Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, who are running for McAdams’ seat in the 4th Congressional District. | Kristin Murphy and Colter Peterson, Deseret News

Owens, a former NFL player, author and frequent Fox News guest, said the president’s $10 billion program to develop a vaccine for the deadly virus, dubbed “Operation Warp Speed,” is a model for how government should get out of the way on other issues, including health care, Social Security and Medicare.

“It’s a prototype of what we can do when we take away the regulation, we take away the bureaucracy. We literally have business running the show with government backing and supporting it instead of vice versa. We had within nine to 10 months, the potential of a vaccine that takes years or decades,” he said.

Concerns have been raised about Trump politicizing the process by pressuring drugmakers to come up with a vaccine before Election Day on Nov. 3. when experts say the more likely timeline is early next year. The president, who was hospitalized with coronavirus, has suggested the experimental drugs he was treated with are a cure.

McAdams, who came down with COVID-19 earlier this year and spent more than a week in the hospital, said politics and science should be kept apart.

“What we need to do is to make sure that we allow the scientists to do their jobs, step out of the way and not make this partisan or political. Let’s let science and public health officials guide the development of the vaccine, develop a plan for deploying the vaccine,” he said, aimed at getting it first to those who need it the most.

McAdams called for doing “everything we can to instill trust in the American people that a vaccine is safe and effective. I think we can best do that by not making it partisan.” He cited Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, as an example even though some of his decisions may be questioned.

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“The one thing our governor has consistently done well is not make this a political, partisan issue. Our governor has focused on, I think, doing what’s right for the people of Utah. And it hasn’t been about Republicans and Democrats. It’s about slowing the spread of the virus,” the congressman said.

Owens said another shutdown is not the answer to stopping the virus’ spread, describing earlier closures of nonessential businesses and services throughout the country as “not a depression or a recession. We came to a suppression” of the economy.

His biggest concern about coronavirus relief efforts in Congress, he said, is “giving incentives to people not to work, not to pay their bills, not to be responsible people. So there’s a balance there. And I think that’s the real fight between the Democrats and the Republican Party.”

While there are good people in both parties, Owens said, “there’s a party, the Democratic Party, that has an ideology that is not congruent with District 4. We don’t believe in no-limit abortion. We don’t believe that god should be kicked out of everything we do. We believe in choice for our kids. ... We believe in capitalism.”

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