President Donald Trump promised Monday that “very exciting things are happening rapidly” on the coronavirus front, including a possible “quick” vaccine. But that hope was instantly dashed by the top health expert on his COVID-19 task force, who said a vaccine might be ready in 18 months.
Trump appeared to confuse when a vaccine could be tested with when it could be safely used by Americans.
Trump’s specifics on the battle against coronavirus were vague, but he promised they would undoubtedly be “very successful.” He made his remarks as he met in the Oval Office with task force members and 10 pharmaceutical company executives.
Trump also vowed that “we will continue to do exactly what we’ve been doing,” even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been sharply criticized over its flawed, limited tests for the disease.
As for a vaccine, Trump said, “I’ve heard very quick numbers, that of months. And I’ve heard pretty much a year would be an outside number. So I think that’s not a bad range. But ... you’re talking about three to four months in a couple of cases, a year in other cases.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, instantly corrected Trump: “Let me make sure you get the ... information.” A vaccine could be ready “at the earliest [in] a year to a year-and-a-half, no matter how fast you go,” said Fauci, noting: “Like I’ve been telling you, Mr. President.”
Fauci also corrected Trump after his first news conference on the coronavirus last Wednesday, when the president insisted a vaccine was “very close.” Fauci later said a coronavirus vaccine could take up to two years.
The president underscored at the meeting that one company was talking about a vaccine in “two months.” But Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar pointed out to him that a vaccine could be ready to begin testing in two months. Vaccines go through three stages of testing before they’re available to the public much later.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals CEO Leonard Schleifer explained to Trump that a faulty vaccine can make a disease worse. “You don’t want to rush and treat a million people and find out you’re making 900,000 of them worse,” he said. Trump responded: “Good idea.”
Executives also had to explain to a stumped Trump that a typical flu vaccine won’t work against the new coronavirus.
The president appeared a bit foggy about vaccines in general. Schleifer explained about antibodies.
Critics on Twitter were stunned that Trump boasted about “exciting things” concerning the coronavirus, given the rapidly mounting number of cases in the nation (102 as of Monday evening) and the death count (six people in Washington state).
Here’s Trump’s entire meeting: