The head of the Trump administration’s COVID-19 vaccine development project on Tuesday said he “literally” doesn’t know anything about President Donald Trump’s planned executive order to prioritize vaccinations for Americans.
White House officials announced the order, which they said reaffirms Trump’s “commitment to America first,” on Monday shortly after The New York Times reported that the Trump administration passed on Pfizer’s offer to sell the U.S. additional vaccine doses in mid-2021.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the order will actually change the U.S. vaccine distribution plan. It does not appear to expand the U.S. supply of doses, the Times reported.
Dr. Moncef Slaoui ― the chief science adviser to Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine project ― told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the U.S. will still be able to deliver vaccines to its entire population by mid-2021.
When asked to explain the executive order, which will reportedly attempt to limit other countries from getting the vaccine until all Americans get it, Slaoui said he was in the dark about it.
“Frankly, I don’t know,” Slaoui said. “And frankly, I’m staying out of this. I can’t comment. I literally don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” host George Stephanopoulos asked. “You’re the chief science adviser for Operation Warp Speed.”
Slaoui said his team’s work is “rolling” and that there are plans in place.
“We feel that we can deliver the vaccines as needed, so I don’t know exactly what this order is about,” he added.
It’s unclear why the White House wouldn’t loop in Slaoui ― the official in charge of vaccine development and distribution ― on the planned executive order regarding vaccines.
The White House did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Trump is expected to sign the order Tuesday during a vaccine summit at the White House. Pfizer and Moderna ― two major drug manufacturers likely to get emergency authorizations for their COVID-19 vaccines in the coming weeks ― declined invitations to attend the event, StatNews reported Monday.
White House officials said later Monday that they deemed the companies’ presence “not appropriate” since the Food and Drug Administration official charged with deciding which vaccines are granted emergency-use authorization will be in attendance.
“There was a change of direction in light of the fact we would have the regulator participating in the event,” a White House official said during a call with reporters, according to CNN.
Slaoui said Tuesday that the U.S. is “still on track” to deliver vaccine doses to all Americans by mid-2021 as promised, citing initial doses from Pfizer as well as additional doses of other likely vaccines produced by Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Astra Zeneca.
“We are comfortable we will be getting vaccines to the people who need them as soon as possible,” he said, adding that his team “will work with Pfizer to try and increase capacity and have those vaccines available.”