WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump is saying he is confident there will be a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year, and mass inoculations of the public will occur quickly.
“I think distribution will take place almost simultaneously because we've geared up the military,” Trump explained on Thursday, adding that further details will be released on Friday.
The president’s prediction contrasts with testimony heard on Capitol Hill shortly before Trump spoke on the White House South Lawn.
The ousted director of the federal government’s vaccine agency told lawmakers, “We don’t have a plan” to mass-produce and distribute a coronavirus vaccine. Hope for such a vaccine within 12 to 18 months assumes "everything goes perfectly,” Dr. Rick Bright testified. "We've never seen everything go perfectly.”
More than 90 vaccines for the novel coronavirus are in development around the world. German company CureVac said Thursday that one of its mRNA candidate vaccines has protected animals from the virus at low doses. Clinical trials are expected to begin next month.
Bright was removed as the director of the Biomedical Advance Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which is under the Department of Health and Human Services, an action that prompted the immunologist to file a whistleblower complaint.
Trump told reporters he watched some of Thursday’s testimony by Bright and “he looks like an angry, disgruntled employee who, frankly, according to some people, didn't do a very good job.”
Bright told a House health subcommittee that higher officials, including those at the White House, ignored his early warning about COVID-19, and the federal government was ill-prepared to respond to a pandemic.
The current administration blames any shortcomings on plans and supplies left by the previous administration of Barack Obama, who turned the presidency over to Trump in January 2017.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said this would be explained “line by line” in a briefing for reporters on Friday.
The president, prior to visiting a medical supply distributor in Pennsylvania, returned to his previous controversial promotion of an unproven malaria drug for treatment of the novel coronavirus.
“We’ve had tremendous response to the hydroxy(chloroquine),” asserted Trump, who also criticized Bright for “fighting it” when he was running BARDA.
Bright and others cautioned about the need for scientific studies about using the drug for COVID-19 treatment and warned of its dangers, including the possibility it could kill people.
Asked by a reporter if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is over-counting U.S. deaths from the coronavirus, Trump replied, “I don't know how they're counting. I never discussed it with them. Death is death. We don't want people dying in this country. And we've done a great job.”
The United States has recorded the most deaths and most COVID-19 cases of any country.
As of Thursday afternoon EDT, according to records compiled by Johns Hopkins University, 1.4 million people had tested positive for the virus and more than 85,000 had died in the country.
At a Thursday afternoon event, partly resembling a campaign rally, at a medical supply distribution company in the election battleground state of Pennsylvania, the president promoted the replenishment of the strategic national stockpile.
Trump linked the high rate of COVID-19 cases in the United States to the country's having conducted the most tests.
“When you test, you have a case,” the president said. “If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.”