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Donald Trump contended on Monday that a vaccine to prevent coronavirus cases could be ready in three months, only to be corrected by one of his top public health officials after he repeatedly appeared to misunderstand drug company executives' statements about their plans to test possible vaccines.
The president, during a Cabinet Room meeting with top pharmaceutical industry executives, said he has heard a vaccine could be ready in just three or four months. But Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, later clarified the remark, telling reporters getting a vaccine properly tested, cleared and distributed likely would take one year.
It was merely the latest time Mr Trump and his top health officials have contradicted one another since the coronavirus outbreak hit US soil. They also have issued different messages about the potential severity of the flu-like ailment and the likelihood that a significant number of cases is inevitable in the United States.
Mr Trump made the forecast even after being told by one industry bigwig that it would take "a year" for his company just to get a potential vaccine into clinics. Repeatedly during the confusing session, Mr Trump latched onto executives' mentions of moving into new phases of testing in the next few months. But Mr Fauci at one point broke in to try and explain to the president that required testing would not allow the drugs to actually reach Americans by summer.
Meantime, another top Trump administration official said the president is pressing drug manufacturers to shed their usually methodical development process to find a coronavirus vaccine and rush it to market.
During the same meeting that featured the president, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Mr Trump pressed the industry officials to "challenge some of those normal Pharma timelines that can be a little slow and bureaucratic." Other Trump administration officials spoke vaguely of possibly getting "new countermeasures" available quickly without offering specifics.
Those remarks came a few hours after the president told reporters his team and drug makers are "talking about a vaccine, maybe a cure, it's possible".
"We'll see about that," he said of a drug to cure coronavirus victims, something Mr Azar and other Trump health officials have not said is possible. They have focused instead on a vaccine to prevent people from contracting the virus.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains the difference between a cure and a vaccine this way on its website: "Unlike most medicines, which treat or cure diseases, vaccines prevent them."
Executives for several major drug manufacturers were in the Oval Office for the meeting, including GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer Inc and Sanofi.
As the two sides met, US markets were closing up for the first time in a few days – and following a coronavirus-triggered slide. The S&P 500 rose 4.6 per cent on Monday, as markets around the world added value ahead of a G7 ministers conference call on Tuesday that fed hopes the central banks of the globe's biggest economies might slash interest rates together as a hedge against the virus's economic impacts.
But congressional Democrats continued to criticise the president.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused him of "downplaying" the threat from the mysterious virus.
"Even now, President Trump seems to be spending more of his time blaming the media, blaming the Democrats than being constructive," the New York Democrat said on the Senate floor. "He is downplaying the threat of coronavirus to a dangerous degree."