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President Donald Trump on Tuesday held what was billed as a summit to celebrate and mark the progress of the development of a vaccine to help end the COVID-19 pandemic.
But after a few minutes of touting the success of Operation Warp Speed, his address morphed into an unspooling of grievances over the election outcome as well as an unfounded assertion that the rising number COVID-19 cases across the country was, in fact, a “terrific” development.
“I hear we’re close to 15 percent. I’m hearing that, and that’s terrific,” Trump said of the percentage of Americans who have contracted COVID-19.
He appeared to be referencing the increased likelihood that a rising infection rate would bring the country closer to so-called herd immunity, which would effectively stop the virus from spreading because there would be no potential carriers to which it could go.
In fact, infectious disease experts say an infection rate would have to be above 70 percent for herd immunity to take hold—a number that, if it were to be reached, would result in hundreds of thousands more Americans dying.
Those Trump comments came during a brief Q&A session following his speech before government officials, the press, and some pharmacy executives. It was one of the few times that Trump has addressed the press since the election, in which he was defeated by now President-elect Joe Biden by some 7-million-plus votes and a healthy electoral college margin. And he made it clear that he continued to believe that the results were not legitimate, despite all evidence and legal conclusions to the contrary.
“Well, we’re gonna have to see who the next administration is,” he said, when asked why he hadn’t invited a member of President-elect Biden’s transition team to the briefing. “Hopefully the next administration will be the Trump administration, a continuation.”
Though the event was ostensibly to praise the work that pharmaceutical companies had done in conjunction with the Trump administration, two of the major vaccine developers—Pfizer and Moderna—declined an invitation to Tuesday’s event. Neither company had been asked about attending the event prior to its announcement.
Despite the pomp on Tuesday, the roll out of a COVID-19 vaccine remains a work in progress. On Monday, it was reported that, over the summer, the Trump administration declined the opportunity to buy potentially well over 100 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, which could put distribution in the U.S. back months, since Americans will need two doses.
The president said on Tuesday that he would be signing “an Executive Order to ensure that the United States government prioritizes the getting out of the vaccine to American citizens before sending it to other nations.” But he also said he would not be using the Defense Production Act in order to reorganize elements of the private sector around vaccine production and distribution.
“I don’t think it will be necessary,” he explained.
The U.S., he said elsewhere, was on the precipice of a major breakthrough in the pandemic. With the vaccine close to being sent out, “the numbers should skyrocket downward,” he said.