As coronavirus cases and deaths continue to surge in the United States, President Donald Trump took a victory lap on Tuesday, crediting his administration’s Operation Warp Speed programme for contributing to the quick development of a vaccine.
“Nobody thought it was even remotely possible to do what we’ve done in a period of less than nine months. Something that – just not even thinkable,” Trump said at the White House on Tuesday. “And we took a lot of heat when we said this is our goal.”
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Trump, who has been heavily criticised over his handling of the pandemic, played a video at the beginning of the event that highlighted a litany of TV talking heads suggesting his claim of that a vaccine would be ready by the end of 2020 was impossible.
“Of course, they’ll be saying now ‘we always told you it was so,’ but we have them saying a little bit different, but it has been incredible and it will end the pandemic. It will end the pandemic,” Trump said.
The president’s remarks come amid a surge in coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and deaths across the US. The number of daily confirmed infections passed 200,000 for the first time last week and on Monday there were 102,148 people hospitalised with COVID-19, according to COVID Tracking Project data.
The US has confirmed more than 15 million cases and over 285,000 deaths, the highest totals in the world, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
Trump also signed an executive order Tuesday that will give Americans priority access to the COVID-19 vaccines the US government is set to receive and distribute. It is unclear exactly how the executive order will work, however, and when asked Tuesday morning for details about Trump’s executive order and why it is needed, Dr Moncef Slaoui, a top official on Operation Warp Speed, said he did not know.
“Frankly, I don’t know. And frankly, I’m staying out of this. I can’t comment. I literally don’t know,” Slaoui told ABC News before the White House event.
I asked Operation Warp Speed's chief scientific adviser, Moncef Slaoui, to explain Trump's vaccine executive order.
“Frankly, I don't know. And frankly, I'm staying out of this. I can't comment. I literally don't know."
— GeorgeStephanopoulos (@GStephanopoulos) December 8, 2020
Trump’s comments come on the heels of a New York Times report revealing that Pfizer, which is developing a vaccine, will not be able to provide more than 100 million doses of its vaccines to the US because of commitments made to other nations.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that Pfizer offered over the summer to sell as many as 200 million doses to the US, which would cover 100 million Americans, but the Trump administration declined that offer. The White House insists they will have enough doses from Pfizer and other vaccine manufacturers to immunise all Americans who want the vaccine by the end of June 2021.
“We have committed to have enough vaccine doses to immunise the full population by the middle of the year, 2021. We remain confident this will be the case,” Slaoui told Fox News.
Pfizer and another vaccine developer, Moderna, were not in attendance at the Trump event Tuesday because emergency use applications for their vaccines are currently being considered by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA official Peter Marks was present, and a senior administration official said on Monday that Marks’s attendance is the reason that the drugmakers were not invited.
Attendees also included executives of companies that will be involved in vaccine distribution, such as pharmacy chains CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance, drug distributor McKesson, as well as package delivery companies United Parcel Service and FedEx.
Following his remarks, Trump was asked by a reporter about the current surge of cases and what his message is to the American people about travelling over the upcoming holidays. The president briefly referenced guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) before touting the vaccine again.
“CDC puts out their guidelines and they’re very important guidelines, but I think this, I think that the vaccine was our goal. That was number one, because that was the way, it was the way it ends.”
When asked why members of President-elect Joe Biden’s team were not invited to participate in Tuesday’s event, as Biden’s administration will be overseeing the majority of the distribution next year, Trump took the opportunity to continue insisting, without evidence, that the election still has yet to be decided.
“We’ll have to see who the next administration is because we won in those swing states and there was terrible things that went on. So, we’re going to have to see who the next administration is,” Trump said on the same day that marked the deadline for states to certify their election results ahead of next week’s Electoral College meetings, beginning the final phase of the presidential election process.
“And hopefully the next administration will be the Trump administration because you can’t steal hundreds of thousands of votes,” he continued, referencing repeatedly debunked claims. “You can’t have fraud and deception and all of the things that they did.”