President Donald Trump appeared in the White House Rose Garden on Friday to outline an aggressive goal for developing a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year — if not earlier.
That’s a quicker time schedule than a number of experts have said is likely, as they characterize even a 12 to 18 month timeline as especially quick.
“We are looking to get it by the end of the year if we can, maybe before,” Trump said at the event, in which he talked of a vaccine-development initiative called Operation Warp Speed that he compared to the Manhattan Project, the drive to develop the atomic bomb during World War II.
Trump has tapped Moncef Slaoui as a kind of “vaccine czar” to help lead the development. Slaoui, the former chairman of vaccines at GlaxoSmithKline, expressed encouragement by early data from a clinical trial that made him feel “even more confident that we will be able to deliver a few hundred million doses of vaccine by the end of 2020.” He told The New York Times early this week that even the 12-18 month timeline was aggressive, but also said that the development of one in an earlier timeframe was still possible. The president also talked of mobilizing the military to distribute a vaccine once it is developed.
Standing behind Trump, wearing a mask, was Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has said that he has “cautious optimism” about a vaccine, but has been less specific in saying when one could be widely available. He testified before Congress this week that they
“hope to know” in late fall or early winter whether the development of a coronavirus vaccine is successful.
As he spoke to a gathering of White House pool reporters, Trump’s words were muffled by the honking coming from truckers who are calling for the president to act to address low shipping rates during the pandemic. The trucks have been lined up on streets near the National Mall on the south side of the White House.
At one point, Trump interrupted his remarks and commented on the protests. “Those are truckers that are with us all the way,” he said. “They are protesting in favor of President Trump as opposed to against…that is the sign of love, not the sign of your typical protest.”
As Trump took questions, he at times had difficulty hearing questions with the honking sounds getting louder.
Although the emphasis of the White House even was on a vaccine, Trump also addressed what will happen if a vaccine cannot be developed on that timeline — or if current ones in development do not pan out.
He said, “I want to make one thing clear. Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back.”
Asked what he meant by that, Trump later said that his plan to fight the pandemic “is not solely vaccine based. Other things have not had a vaccine and they go away.”
Later, Chanel Rion, chief White House correspondent for One America News Network, known for its pro-Trump coverage, asked McEnany whether any members of the Obama administration, during the transition period, briefed the Trump administration on the depletion of the national stockpile.
“It’s a really good question. Not to my knowledge. To my knowledge, the two things President Obama warned about were North Korea and Michael Flynn. What I do know is this. The Obama administration wasn’t throwing ventilators into the stockpile. They were unmasking Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in the waning days of their administration.”
Rion stood in the back of the room, as she was not a part of the Friday pool of correspondents set up by the White House Correspondents’ Association to cover the briefings and maintain social distance. Other reporters wore masks. Rion did not.