Trump Moves to Speed Up Vaccine-Development Efforts

A new project aims to deliver millions of doses of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year.

President Donald Trump listens as Gen. Gustave Perna speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Donald Trump said Friday that a former pharmaceutical executive and a four-star Army general will lead the government’s push to accelerate the development of a coronavirus vaccine.

Dubbed Operation Warp Speed, the private-public partnership announced by the Trump administration aims to produce a vaccine to effectively treat Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, before the end of the year.

In its organizational stages since late April, the president said from the Rose Garden that such a sweeping national effort had not been attempted since the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb during World War II.

“The great national project will bring together the best of American industry and innovation, the full resources of the United States government and the excellence and precision of the United States military,” Trump said Friday.  

The president — speaking in competition with 18-wheeler horn blasts from truckers who have been protesting on Constitution Avenue since May against low shipping rates that could put them out of work – announced Moncef Slaoui will serve as chief scientist on Operation Warp Speed. Slaoui is an immunologist who was the head of GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccines department until 2017.

Trump said Slaoui will be joined in leading the vaccine effort by General Gustave Perna, who leads the Army’s Materiel Command, which is responsible for supply chain management in the military branch. Perna is a four-star general who will serve as chief operating office for the project.  

Slaoui said the operation’s objectives are “extremely challenging” but said he was confident about achieving those goals, in part because of coordination between the Pentagon and Health and Human Services Department.

Seeing early data from a clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine, he said, made him “even more confident that we will be able to deliver a few hundred million doses of vaccine” by the end of 2020.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told the Associated Press on Thursday that four or five vaccines for Covid-19 will begin large-scale testing in early July.

However, he said having one prepared by next January to meet a national mark of 300 million available doses would be “a stretch goal if there ever was one.”

“Your big challenge now is to go big and everybody is about ready for that and we want to be sure that happens in a coordinated way,” Collins said.

One trial vaccine has already shown success in tests on rhesus macaques, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reported Friday. While the studies are not yet peer-reviewed, in six of these monkeys the drug had prevented the type of pneumonia caused by the virus.

“We observed a significantly reduced viral load in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid and respiratory tract tissue of vaccinated animals challenged with SARS-CoV-2 compared with control animals,” according to the findings.

The president did not elaborate Friday on what would expedite the production of a Covid-19 vaccine, only offering that companies working to produce a cure had been given the virus’ genetic code in January and are working nonstop towards that goal.

Trump also said he would like to see schools open for the fall term, noting Operation Warp Speed was not solely focused on finding a vaccine for the country’s return to normalcy.

“But again, you know, it’s not solely vaccine-based,” Trump said of the research project. “Other things have never had a vaccine and they go away. So, I don’t want people to think that this is all dependent on vaccine, but a vaccine would be a tremendous thing. And I will tell you, therapeutically or therapeutics, what’s going on there is equally effective.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified virtually before the Senate on Tuesday, saying there were eight vaccine candidates in clinical development that had potential. But he cautioned that a remedy would likely not be ready in time for the new school year this fall.

“If we had a vaccine, that would be the end of the issue but even at the top speed we are going, we don’t see a vaccine playing into individuals’ ability to get back to school in this term,” he told lawmakers.

Trump said officials are now testing nearly 350,000 Americans a day, eclipsing the no more than 150,000 tests that were conducted per day last month. The White House has often lauded its national testing strategy, with Trump falsely stating on several occasions that any American who wants a test can get one. Multiple states are still limiting testing to people who have symptoms or came into contact with an infected person.  

The president suggested Friday some states could have an excess of tests available.

“Many other states have so much testing the testers are waiting for people to show up, it’s great,” Trump said.

But Dr. Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, testified before Congress Tuesday that this was not the case. In a series of questions from Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan, Bright said “there still are not enough tests.”

“So, even this week, as we’re being told anybody who wants a test can have a test, is that true in the United States of America?” Dingell said.

“No,” Bright replied.

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