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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Friday rolled out a hyper-ambitious plan to develop and manufacture hundreds of millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses by the end of 2020, outlining an aggressive process that, if successful, would shatter conventional wisdom about the typical process for developing vaccines for emerging infectious diseases.

At a Rose Garden press conference, the president and his deputies acknowledged their goal, dubbed “Operation Warp Speed,” was lofty. Trump said the project was “risky and expensive.” Gustave Perna, a four-star general who oversees logistics for the U.S. Army, called the task “Herculean.” Moncef Slaoui, the pharmaceutical executive Trump has appointed to lead the initiative, said the goal was “extremely challenging.”

But they allowed themselves little ambiguity. Mark Esper, the defense secretary, pledged to deliver a vaccine “at scale” to the U.S. and its foreign partners by the end of the year.

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The rollout highlights an overt shift in the White House’s messaging on vaccines. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease researcher, has long warned Americans that, even optimistically, developing a Covid-19 vaccine would take between 12 and 18 months. Even that timeline, Fauci has said, would represent something of a biomedical miracle.

The Trump administration’s scientific muscle, however, was notably silent. During his remarks, the president was flanked by three physician-researchers: Fauci; Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator; and Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health.

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The three doctors were the only federal officials who appeared on stage wearing masks. None spoke at any point during the press conference.

Instead, it was Slaoui, the former GlaxoSmithKline executive who Trump has appointed to lead the vaccine initiative, who delivered yet another strikingly confident prediction.

“Mr. President, I have very recently seen early data from a clinical trial with a coronavirus vaccine,” he said to applause. “These data make me feel even more confident that we will be able to deliver a few hundred million doses of vaccine by the end of 2020.”

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Slaoui, who resigned his position on the board of the drug manufacturer Moderna to accept the government appointment, was likely referencing the company’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate, which was the first in the U.S. to enter a Phase 1 clinical trial.

According to federal financial disclosures, he still holds over 156,000 Moderna stock options, worth over $10 million at the company’s current stock price, creating a potential conflict of interest if the company’s vaccine is the first to be proven effective. Numerous progressive groups in Washington have already criticized Trump over Slaoui’s appointment.

The project will rely in part on allowing drug manufacturers to begin scaling up their manufacturing efforts prior to receiving approvals regarding a potential vaccine’s effectiveness, officials said.

Trump, separately, delivered a markedly optimistic message in terms of the vaccine’s price.

“The last thing anybody’s looking for is profit,” he said.

Nonetheless, the vaccine’s price has been a consistent topic of debate among Democratic lawmakers in Washington, some of whom have attempted to pass new laws that would include affordability requirements for any vaccine developed via taxpayer-funded research.

 

Trump also downplayed concerns about whether, as some public health experts have feared, the race to develop a vaccine could devolve into an international showdown that leaves foreign governments to compete to secure vaccine allotments for their populations.

He said that the U.S. would work with foreign governments to distribute a Covid-19 vaccine regardless of which companies, or which countries, are first across the finish line. The federal government, he said, has “no ego” regarding vaccine development.

“We want to get to the solution,” Trump said. “We know exactly where the other countries are, and we’ll be very happy if they are able to do it. We’ll help them with delivery, we’ll help them with it in every way we can.”

The pledge, he indicated, even applies to China, the country where Covid-19 was first identified. Trump has repeatedly expressed anger over China’s handling of the outbreak in early 2020, casting doubts on its reported death toll, blaming its government for not containing the virus within its borders, and even labeling Covid-19 the “Chinese virus.”

The new initiative is the latest sign of the federal government’s far-reaching efforts to accelerate research into coronavirus tests, treatments, and vaccines. Those initiatives, in some cases, have tested the practical boundaries of biomedical research. To date, the U.S. government has announced a “Shark Tank”-like competition to develop new Covid-19 diagnostics and a series of partnerships with drug companies on both therapeutics and vaccines.

Yet Trump also warned that his plans to reopen the U.S. economy are not contingent on the development of a vaccine.

At one point, he repeated the unscientific claim that the virus will “go away” even without a vaccine. Separately, he attempted to downplay the severity of the coronavirus, noting that despite nearly 90,000 recorded U.S. deaths to date, many Americans who contracted the virus displayed few symptoms and are likely now immune.

“We think we’re going to have a vaccine in the pretty near future,” Trump said. “If we do, we’re going to really be a big step ahead. If we don’t, we’re going to be like so many other cases where you had a problem come in. It’ll go away at some point. It’ll go away. It may flare up, and it may not flare up. We’ll have to see what happens.”

Damian Garde contributed reporting. 

  • He’ll probably announce success on Oct 15. He’ll have millions of syringes all ready to inject it. The entire country will be awe and shower praise on the conquering hero. He’ll ride on a title wave of support into a new four year term. The reports of the vaccine’s horrible effects and worthlessness will start surfacing in November. By then he’ll be prepared to shutter the news outlets and clamp down on dissidents.

  • Many of his business ventures followed that guideline of ” risky and expensive” It resulted in 6 bankruptcies. It would help to think things through and listen to others that are intelligent , rather than loyal.

  • I know it is required for some to deny anything this administration does but the Presidents promise today reminds me of another great president who was thought crazy by the experts when he promised that by the end of the decade we would put a man on the moon. I only wish he would have lived to see it. I won’t bet this promise is beyond the ability of America either. I think the only thing that will prevent it is a lack of ambition for some reason.

    • There is a thing call time. First, you have to synthesis the vaccine. Then you have to prove it is safe, takes months. Then you have to prove it is effective, takes many months. Most vaccines fails to be either safe or effective. You often have to start over.

      There is this chance, we vaccinate the population and they all die.

    • Peter John -All that you say is negated by the fact that enough experimental vaccine can be made to inject hundreds of human volunteers and then deliberately infect them about a month later.
      If this was done concurrently with a few dozen candidates, we would know of their basic efficacy and safety in about three months.
      The claim it can not be done is based entirely on the self-imposed restrictions by the medical establishment. Phase 1, then Phase 2, then Phase 3, then approval, then production is begun.
      The danger posed by the vaccine is outweighed by the damage the virus does every day – I would actually argue, every couple hours.
      And production of most candidate vaccines can be begun now, before we know if they work or not.
      Allotting the resources for this effort is not easy and will result in many deadends, but those are dwarfed by the damage being done. At this point, it is not responsible to not do it.

    • Steve White – you keep pushing to fast-forward the heavily promoted vaccine of which its effects for Covid-19 are hardly known. You say only a few hundred people need to be tested. SO – have you volunteerd ???? Until you state you do, you will not be believable – just eager to spew hot air. It also appears you do not know much of the complications inherent with drug and vaccine development.

    • Peter Stuart – Yes, I signed up for OneDaySooner – it is not legally binding but I hope they call me – a vaccine with a reasonable theoretical basis is something I would pay to receive. It means freedom to go where I want and do what I want will come two years sooner. The only thing I would not do is sign up for a study where placebo is given to half the participants, and then they are all infected – that is way too much personal sacrifice for me. I want the vaccine.

      I think people do not really understand, it is not like the world of viruses, or vaccines, is unexplored territory where anything might happen. Any kind of life science is full of surprises, but the knowledge basis for action is huge. We know a hell of a lot about these things.

  • Yo be sure, Trump is a loon, and half of what he says is nonsense. On the other hand, everything he’s done in forging a government and industry partnership has been spot on, and the people he put in charge have been impressive.

    I don’t care if Slaoui makes a billion bucks, if we get a vaccine, and fast, does anyone? Give him another billion. Like the first time Admiral Giroire spoke, this was a big shot in the arm, so to speak. I think even some of the press applauded when Slaoui made that prediction.

  • This is a campaign promise: if, on November 3, people believe that there will be a vaccine by 12/31/2020, many will vote for him. So my prediction is that he will continue to promise this right up to the election. Hopefully there will be informed news coverage on the vaccine development progress (and maybe a few leaks from people on the inside) that will sway a few voters back to reality. In the meantime, the Trump campaign will continue to suppress truthful information on any of the labs and distribution entities that are under the control and financing of this Task Force. We can only wait for details and continue to Pay Attention.

  • I am just a layman trying to inform myself. I understand this is all very complex. I understand there is a phenomenon of antibody dependent enhancement which can make a vaccine or previous natural infection set one up for a disastrous second infection -but all that seems insufficient reason to delay going into large scale human testing of the most plausible vaccine candidates, including challenge testing, immediately, while building the production lines for multiple vaccines, also immediately, knowing some of them may not be used.
    The government needs to get out of the way to some extent – referee which vaccine is best, but not demand the same safety standards in the trials of the vaccine – for that matter, probably not demand the same safety standards in the finished project. Or efficacy either. Get us something which will cut this down – it does not have to be great – just get it as soon as you possibly can.
    Finally, Trump seems to have set a proper goal, and, maybe he will bulldoze a way to get this done ASAP. I find this very hopeful news.
    I know there will be many objections to this from much more knowledgeable people, but is it entirely wrong to say, the vaccine likely already exists? By which I mean not this one from Oxford, but someone has used a piece of the virus to inoculate test animals, and gotten good results, already, and one of those research groups has thusly made a prototype of a vaccine which will work? It is not like all this needs to be discovered, is it? It is a matter of finding out which one of the 80 vaccines being tested is best, isn’t it?
    It is very distressing to think of our country disappearing while the scientists go through so much safety testing, especially in the cases where there is no particular reason to think the vaccine being tested will do any harm.

    • I remember a drug called thalidomide that was given to many pregnant women. It was apparently not researched well. It caused babies with horrific birth defects. A vaccine that has not been researched thoroughly could have bad effects on humans. I for one don’t want to be in the first thousand to try it.

    • Thalidomide has been over publicized, hasn’t it? Some reasons:
      1. Most drugs are not intended for pregnant women. Thalidomide was intended pretty much solely for pregnant women. If it had been a drug for some serious health problem, some disease which was not any more common in pregnant women than anyone else, then far fewer women/babies would have been effected, and the good effects might have very clearly outweighed the bad.
      2. Thalidomide was a disaster 50 years back – could we go back another 50 years and remember what happened with swine flu in 1918? Please keep that in mind when you compare thalidomide to a vaccine for everyone. And, by the way, it is pretty much standard to not administer a whole slew of drugs to pregnant women – and we can do that with a new vaccine.
      3. The immune system reacts to viruses all the time – all the time – all the time -if you read up on this, the scientists are concerned with a kind of paradoxical effect where a vaccine will make the person who gets the virus later sicker. They are not thinking the vaccine is particularly dangerous by itself, if there is no later infection – and even that is theoretical, with no one claiming this virus has that odd effect. And what is more, some people get this paradoxical effect from two natural infections by the same virus – or even in one infection – so how avoidable is it. Finally, most important, some antibodies your own body makes, in other diseases, can make an infection worse, other’s seem to only help- with a vaccine custom made to create the correct antibody response, it is not likely to be a problem.

    • You better do some more research. There have been people in both S Korea and here who have come up positive for the virus even after supposedly recovering. There is no guarantee of immunity even if you get Covid-19 in its natural form.

      Therefore there is no guarantee that a vaccine is even possible much less being likely. The better bet would likely be to find an anti-viral drug that helps people get through the disease process with as few side effects as possible.
      Remdisivir is promising, however, there is a limited supply since its raw component is only known to exist on one island.

      Four years is the previous record for having a safe vaccine. There inherent problems of going to fast like what was seen in the CDC’s attempt to come up with its own testing protocol while dismissing WHO’s protocol. Even now there is a 48% failure rate in current testing due to false positives and false negatives being far too prevalent.

      Going headlong into the unknown isn’t smart and animal studies do not always equate to similar outcomes in humans.

      DDT and Agent Orange were once considered to be safe for human exposure too. We know better now.

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