President Donald Trump held a 45-minute press conference beginning at 12:40 this afternoon. He was joined by Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, former head of GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccine division, named today as the Chief Scientist for Operation Warp Speed, and General Gustave Perna, commanding general of the Army Materiel Command, named today as the Chief Operating Officer of Operation Warp Speed.
Summary of the President’s remarks and questions:
- The President said we have the largest and most ambitious testing system, now performing 350,000 tests per day. Some states now have excess testing capacity.
- Treatments and vaccines are being developed as quickly as possible. He hopes to have a vaccine by the end of the year and perhaps sooner.
- NIH scientists began developing the first vaccine candidates on January 11.
- NIH and HHS are working to evaluate more than 100 potential treatments.
- FDA has approved more than 130 therapies in active trials, and another 450 in planning stages.
- $10 billion has been provided through funding bills this year to support medical research efforts.
- The next stage will be Operation Warp Speed, which will be unlike anything since the Manhattan Project. The objective is to develop, manufacture, and distribute an effective vaccine as soon as possible. It will be a full government effort including the military, and working with other countries. It will be led by the Departments of Health and Human Services and Defense, with Defense focusing on logistics.
- He announced Dr. Moncef Slaoui will be the Chief Scientist, and four-star General Gustave Perna will be the Chief Operating Officer.
- Thus far 100 vaccine candidates have been reviewed and 14 have been identified as the most promising. We are looking to accelerate the trials, and are getting ready for production on the assumption of having a vaccine.
- The focus will be on manufacturing within the United States.
- Preparations are being made to distribute the vaccine on scale along with other needed materials. The US will work to deploy the vaccine as quickly as possible.
- The President said “vaccine or no vaccine, we are back. We will fight through it.”
- The President was asked about prior statements that it will take 12 to 18 months to develop a vaccine, and why he now believes it can be done more quickly. He replied that work has been underway on a vaccine since January so it is within the 12-month timeline. A vaccine would be tremendous, but there are other things that are being worked on. He mentioned Remdesivir and that therapeutics are a big factor.
- He was asked if there will be competition among countries as to who gets the vaccine first. The President said that the US is working together with other countries, and there will be “no ego”.
- The President was asked what he might say to business owners who say the CDC guidance released last night was not sufficient. The President said that he has been hearing good things about this guidance.
- He was asked if the US will have access to a vaccine if it is first developed in China. The President said we will.
- The President was asked if the vaccine will be available at an affordable price. The President said no one is concentrating on profit. There is great spirit to develop a vaccine.
- He was asked what steps will be taken to be sure the hardest hit communities will have first access to a vaccine. The President talked about working with governors, and having done a good job with sending needed materials to states. He said if we are fortunate enough to have a vaccine it will get out fairly and quickly. And it probably will go first to the hardest hit states.
- He was asked if public confidence is the main thing needed to get people to go back to work, how can this confidence be gained without a vaccine. The President said that only a small percentage of people have had the virus, some didn’t even know it and now have immunity. Schools should open, but perhaps elderly teachers with health conditions should not return right away.
- He was asked if he is concerned about children and teachers potentially bringing the virus back home to their families. He said he is concerned about everything. Our country has to get back. There are other consequences from a shutdown, e.g. drugs, depression, suicides. People want to get back
- He was asked if he has a plan to prevent a spread. He said we have a great plan, but it does not mean we are going to shut our country down for five years.
- The President was asked about his belief in the number of deaths – should it be higher or might it be lower. He said he assumes the numbers being reported are correct. He would be very happy if the number is lower.
Summary of Dr. Moncef Slaoui’s remarks:
- Slaoui said the objective of Operation Warp Speed is very clear and challenging.
- He is convinced we can meet the objective.
- Early data from a clinical trial of a vaccine makes him more certain that a vaccine can be developed before the end of the year.
Summary of General Gustave Perna’s remarks:
- General Perna said this will be an historic effort.
- It is a Herculean task, but the combination of HHS and DoD partnered with other teammates will ensure success.
- The advantage of the military is the ability to logistical and sustainment operations from afar.
Summary of Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar’s remarks and questions:
- Secretary Azar said that setting the goal of having a vaccine by January 2021 will be one of the greatest scientific and humanitarian accomplishments in human history.
- Slaoui is arguably the world’s most experienced and successful vaccine developers. General Perna overseas one of the world’s largest logistic operations which keeps the Army running.
- Three HHS professionals will be key members of the efforts: Dr. Peter Marks of FDA for vaccines, Dr. Janet Woodcock of FDA for therapeutics, and Bruce Tromberg of NIH for diagnostics. They started work in each of these areas in January.
- Operation Warp Speed will integrate existing efforts, including NIH’s Active and Radex.
- HHS and DoD recently signed a new contract for the manufacturing of needles and syringes in the US.
- When the President was asked if the vaccine will be available for everyone or only for emergency use, Secretary Azar said they are working for a fully approved vaccine, but emergency usage will be allowed as appropriate.
Summary of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s remarks:
- Secretary Esper said DoD is excited and committed to work with HHS and private partners in this effort.
- He said DoD will deliver at scale a vaccine by the end of the year.
- He described the efforts by 60,000 defense personnel working throughout the country.
- The Department of Defense has the ability to manage logistics at scale. We will get the job done.