President Trump acknowledged for the first time that he would leave the White House when the Electoral College casts its formal vote for Joe Biden.
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump, his days in office numbered, sought to take credit for emerging COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday while touting a vague executive order designed to prioritize Americans for inoculations amid questions about how many doses will be available and how soon they will be distributed.
The White House “summit,” which Trump used to highlight the speedy development of several vaccine candidates and their expected FDA authorization, came as the administration is facing scrutiny over whether it ordered enough doses to rapidly inoculate the public from a pandemic that has already killed more than 284,000 Americans.
“They say it’s somewhat of a miracle and I think that’s true,” Trump said. “This is one of the greatest miracles in the history of modern-day medicine.”
Trump signed an order asserting the government must ensure Americans have access to the vaccine before it is shipped to other countries. But the practical implications of the order and how it would be enforced are unclear given that drug manufacturers are obligated to honor contracts signed with other governments.
The order states that Americans should have “priority access” to the vaccine and that “the most vulnerable” populations receive it first. The order also charges National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien with developing a plan to ensure that goal is met and then to facilitate “international access” for other countries – but none of those terms are specifically defined.
The order appeared to be a response to reports that the Trump administration, which purchased 100 million doses of vaccine from Pfizer – enough to inoculate 50 million people – passed up a chance last summer to buy millions more doses. Senior administration officials described those reports as “false” but provided few details.
What we know: There are now three promising COVID vaccine candidates.
Preview: Trump holds COVID-19 summit as pressure mounts for FDA vaccine approval
Even before those revelations, the administration was under pressure for revising downward the number of doses available by the end of the year. Initially, Trump had repeatedly promised 100 million doses by the end of year, but the White House has more recently said they expect 20 million people vaccinated in the month of December.
President Donald Trump speaks during the Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Summit in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House in Washington, DC on December 8, 2020. (Photo: SAUL LOEB, AFP via Getty Images)
Trump’s remarks Tuesday came as administration officials convened with drug store chains, package delivery companies and state governors at the White House. But the confab did not include members of President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, even though the incoming administration will be in charge of vaccine distribution after Jan. 20.
The “Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Summit” event seemed designed to let Trump and his aides claim credit for the work of private drug companies like Pfizer and Moderna.
Biden held his own health event Tuesday, formally announcing his incoming health team officials, including California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and Dr. Vivek Murthy to serve as Surgeon General. Both will face the logistical challenge of distributing vaccines while also taking on new roles.
Biden vowed 100 million shots would be distributed in his first 100 days. The former vice president said he also wants a majority of U.S. schools to be open in that time.
“As a country we’ve been living with this pandemic for so long we’re at risk of becoming numb to its toll on all of us,” Biden said. “I’m absolutely convinced that in 100 days we can change the course of the disease and change life in America for the better.”
Trump brushed aside a reporter’s question about why Biden officials weren’t included in the summit, citing his election protests and arguing that “we’re going to have to see who the next administration is.”
Few if any aides believe Trump will prevail, however, and they expect to vacate the White House on Jan. 20. The battleground states that decide the election have certified Biden as the winner of the Nov. 3 election and Trump’s efforts to overturn the outcome in court have fallen short.
During his speech to the summit, Trump did not mention his election protests and generally eschewed politics, though he did blame China for the COVID outbreak and criticized media coverage of his administration.
Still, the summit featured campaign-like aspects. Organizers showed a video before Trump’s speech featuring political analysts who questioned whether vaccines could be produced before the end of the year. As the video ended, Trump ascended the stage to a standing ovation from the summit attendees.
The video included pokes at Trump’s top medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, for outlining longer timelines for vaccine development.
Fauci, meanwhile, attended Biden’s health care event by video because the president-elect has appointed him as a health care adviser.
Trump did not address criticisms of his vaccination delivery plans.
Trump administration officials said they are confident there will be enough vaccines for every American throughout next year. But Trump and other officials, including at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have offered conflicting timelines.
Health and Human Secretary Alex Azar, left, President Donald Trump listen as Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKlines vaccines division, speaks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020 (Photo: Drew Angerer, Getty Images)
White House officials said the purpose of the summit was to give the public confidence in the vaccine and the plans to distribute it across the country. The Food and Drug Administration is set to meet Thursday for a final review of a COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer. It will meet later this month to assess the vaccine developed by Moderna.
Officials meeting at the summit also discussed the supply chain. Participants included executives from transportation companies, including UPS and FedEx, and drug store chains CVS and Walgreens. The four governors who attended the summit included Republicans Greg Abbot of Texas, Bill Lee of Tennessee, and Ron DeSantis of Florida. One Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, also attended.
In his remarks, Trump seemed to place the onus on governors to make sure the vaccines reach people: “I hope the governors will make wise decisions.”
Not in attendance at the summit: Moderna and Pfizer, the two U.S. companies behind the vaccine candidates. The White House was initially in talks to include both drug makers at the event but determined their participation was not required after the decision to include Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.
The FDA Tuesday morning released a 53-page report summarizing data from Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine trial. The data support earlier findings that the vaccine is safe and will prevent 95% of people from becoming sick with COVID-19.
The companies are asking the FDA for authorization to use the vaccine in people ages 16 and up. They have also begun testing the vaccine in ages 12-15, but have not yet accumulated enough data to request authorization in that age group.
Contributing: Karen Weintraub and Courtney Subramanian
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/12/08/trump-touts-covid-19-vaccine-despite-questions-timeline-doses/6488136002/