Donald Trump was at odds with pharmaceutical executives at a White House meeting as he pushed them to develop a coronavirus vaccine within ‘a couple of months’ after six Americans died from the deadly illness.
After a meeting on Monday, the president’s administration said it had secured commitments from 10 top industry executives to work together to develop treatments and a vaccine to fight the virus, which has taken more than 3,000 lives.
However, the Cabinet Room gathering became tense at times, as experts tried to explain why a vaccine could not be produced immediately, with Trump at one point questioning why a flu vaccine wouldn’t be able to help stop the fast-spreading disease.
The Republican made it clear yesterday that he required a short time frame for a vaccine, saying: ‘I don’t know what the time will be. I’ve heard very quick numbers, that of months. And I’ve heard pretty much a year would be an outside number. So I think that’s not a bad range. But if you’re talking about three to four months in a couple of cases, a year in other cases.’
However, Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases, stepped in to repeatedly tell him this was not possible.
He told Trump: ‘Let me make sure you get the … information. A vaccine that you make and start testing in a year is not a vaccine that’s deployable.’
After explaining the timeline to complete various testing stages, Mr Fauci added: ‘He’s asking the question: When is it going to be deployable? And that is going to be at the earliest a year to a year and a half.’
Responding to his comments, the president asked: ‘You think that’s right?’
Executives at the meeting then told him that, while a large scale vaccine could not be ready within a few months, treatments for victims of the virus could be.
Leonard Schleifer, the CEO of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, made it clear that any vaccine made available to the public needed to be safe, saying: ‘Vaccines have to be tested because there’s precedent for vaccines to actually make diseases worse. … You don’t want to rush and treat a million people and find out you’re making 900,000 of them worse.’
The president agreed with the sentiment, but also reiterated that he wanted the vaccine fast.
He told executives: ‘You seem to know what the answer is to this. Get it done. We need it.’
Attendees included the chief executives of Gilead Sciences Inc, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc, Moderna Inc and GlaxoSmithKline Plc as well as research and development executives from Pfizer Inc, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi SA.
During the one-hour briefing, Trump reportedly told one company representative it could use Seattle as a testing ground following six deaths in the Washington state.
He said: ‘We’re working very hard to expedite the longer process of developing a vaccine. We’re also moving with maximum speed to develop a therapy so that we can help people recover as quickly as possible and a lot of recovery going on.’
The meeting comes as 39 people in the UK test positive for Covid-19, with officials warning that the situation could become worse within the coming days, weeks and months.
Boris Johnson is due to publish plans on how the UK will tackle coronavirus today, with the papers expected to include a ‘war room’ for communications experts and scientists to co-ordinate a public information campaign.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that Pope Francis had been tested for coronavirus after he fell ill and was forced to cancel a religious retreat near Rome.
The test came back negative, according to Italian newspaper Il Messaggero this morning.
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