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WASHINGTON — In his first remarks on the coronavirus since losing last week’s presidential election, President Trump said that millions of Americans will be vaccinated in the coming weeks, welcome news for a nation reeling from record infection rates and prospects of new lockdowns.
“The delivery will be very rapid,” Trump promised. “We’re ready to go. The vaccine will be distributed to frontline workers, the elderly and high-risk Americans immediately — matter of weeks,” Trump said, in what was billed as an update on Operation Warp Speed, the $18 billion public-private partnership to develop and distribute a coronavirus vaccine to the American public.
“Millions of doses will soon be going out the door. They’re all ready,” Trump said of the vaccine doses awaiting deployment. “Waiting for that final approval.”
Moncef Slaoui, one of the two leaders of Operation Warp Speed, elaborated on that promise. “We plan to have enough vaccine doses available for use in the U.S. population to immunize about 20 million individuals in the month of December, and another 25 to 30 million per month on an ongoing basis from there on,” Slaoui said. That number could increase come February or March, he added, as other vaccines become available.
In all, six American companies are in the midst of vaccine development. Four vaccine candidates, including those being developed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and Moderna, are in the final stages of clinical testing.
“The American people can be comforted — with all the news this week — that help is on the way,” Vice President Mike Pence said in his own brief time at the Rose Garden podium. Pence, the nominal head of the White House coronavirus task force, has not conducted a public briefing on the subject in months.
The press conference was a break from days of public silence and reported internal turmoil at the White House. Since the election, Trump has been fixated on his political future, tweeting out baseless conspiracy theories about voter fraud, even as he and his top advisers mull a post-presidential future.
The virus had become something of an afterthought for the president at precisely the moment the pandemic seemed to be entering a perilous new phase.
In his own brief statement, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that there was “light at the end of the tunnel,” a phrase with unfortunate echoes of predictions of American victory in the Vietnam War.
Although Trump has frequently exaggerated or misrepresented aspects of his administration’s pandemic response, some optimism is warranted. Pfizer announced earlier this week that its vaccine was 90 percent effective. Moderna is also expected to publish results for its own vaccine trials within the next several weeks.
“As soon as April, the vaccine will be available to the entire general population,” Trump also said. Broad public distribution of the vaccine will almost certainly prove a vast logistical challenge, which could be complicated by Trump’s refusal to begin the transition of power to the president-elect, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Speaking earlier this week, leading immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, who enjoys widespread trust from the American public, departed from his recent round of grim pronouncements to offer a similar note of hope. “The vaccine is on its way, folks, so hang in there, hang tough,” Fauci told an audience gathered in his native Brooklyn. “We’re going to get over this together.”
Trump resorted to a more divisive tone, resuming a long-standing feud with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, who had expressed concerns that the approval process was rushed and motivated by politics. Cuomo has assembled a team of scientists that he says will review the vaccine.
In his Rose Garden address on Friday evening, Trump singled out New York state, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic throughout the spring. “We won’t be delivering it to New York until we have authorization,” the president said sourly. “We can’t be delivering it to a state that won’t be giving it to its people immediately.”
Trump noted that Cuomo had been the subject of “some very bad editorials.”
Despite the toll the coronavirus is now taking across the country, from densely populated cities to rural areas, Trump said he opposed new measures to lock down businesses, schools and public venues.
“Ideally, we won’t go to a lockdown,” Trump said. “This administration will not be going to a lockdown.” He then started to say that a new administration could have different plans before seeming to realize that even the slightest acknowledgment of a Biden presidency would undermine his conspiratorial message of electoral fraud.
“Hopefully the — the uh — whatever happens in the future, who knows which administration it will be, I guess time will tell,” he added, speaking apparently of both politics and the pandemic. He left the press conference without taking questions.
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