As he ramps up his push to reopen the country, President Donald Trump on Friday announced a former pharmaceutical executive and Army general to lead his administration’s effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine for a project he called “Operation Warp Speed.”
The announcement comes one day after ousted vaccine chief Rick Bright said there are no plans to distribute a vaccine on an equitable scale and called the timeline of 12 to 18 months being presented “an aggressive schedule.”
“A lot of optimism is swirling around a 12-to-18-month time frame if everything goes perfectly. We’ve never seen everything go perfectly,” Bright said Thursday before House lawmakers. “I think it’s going to take longer than that to do so.”
On the House floor Friday, members are practicing social distancing and some wearing masks to vote on a historic proxy voting measure and $3 trillion coronavirus relief package — the largest relief bill in U.S. history — which includes another round of direct payments to Americans.
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Here are Friday’s most significant developments in Washington:
Here are the latest developments in the government response:
Trump names leaders of ‘Operation Warp Speed,’ says vaccine could come before the end of the year
President Donald Trump delivered remarks on vaccine development Friday afternoon, proclaiming that “Operation Warp Speed,” his administration’s initiative to fast-track a vaccine, is the country’s biggest undertaking since the Manhattan Project.
“Nobody has seen anything like we are doing now within our country since the Second World War. It’s objective is to finish developing and then to manufacture and distribute a proven coronavirus vaccine as fast as possible. Again, we’d love to see if we can do it prior to the end of the year,” Trump said, adding that the military is “totally involved.”
Trump said the development treatments, in addition to vaccines, will be fast-tracked in the program and made available “quickly,” Trump said, “maybe before” the end of the year.
From the Rose Garden Friday afternoon, the president formally announced that former pharmaceutical executive Moncef Slaoui will lead vaccine development with Army Gen. Gustave Perna, the commander of United States Army Materiel Command, working alongside him.
He also claimed vaccines will be made “right here in the U.S.A.” but that he will help other countries in every way possible.
“We have no ego when it comes to this. No ego whatsoever,” Trump said.
The ever-optimistic president took a moment to tout the progress on what’s become a new campaign slogan, on “America’s opening up again.”
“As of this morning, almost every state has taken steps to begin reopening, and the American people are doing an extraordinary job of continuing to take precautions while at the same time wanting to start, and they will be starting, to resume their American way of life,” Trump said.
“Vaccine or no vaccine, we are back, and we are starting the process,” he added.
Previewing Trump’s event earlier Friday, White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway told reporters that he would be “unveiling two professionals who will be leading the effort.”
“Today he will talk about how health professionals and the military and others, the public sector, the private sector, will be fully engaged in the development of this vaccine at warp speed,” Conway said.
Conway said the private sector and the military would also have a role in vaccine development.
“The two new people that the president will be announcing are professionals who are going to help with the vaccination development and indeed are,” she said. “I think you’ll see Secretary Esper there, for example, and General Mark Milley, because the military’s involved as well.”
In an interview with Fox Business that aired Thursday, President Trump said he plans to mobilize the U.S. military to distribute the vaccine when one becomes available, focusing first on older Americans who are among the most at risk.
“I just literally left a meeting. We’re are mobilizing our military — and other forces, but we are mobilizing our military on the basis that we do have a vaccine,” he said. “Our military is now being mobilized so at the end of the year, we’re going to be able to give it to a lot of people very, very rapidly.”
ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, Katherine Faulders and Ben Gittleson
FDA commissioner says it’s up to White House if they’ll still use Abbott ID NOW test after accuracy concerns
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Steven Hahn said on CBS Friday morning “that will be a White House decision” as to whether they still use the Abbott ID NOW test in light of an FDA notice “alerting the public to early data that suggest potential inaccurate results.”
“Specifically, the test may return false negative results,” the agency said in a statement Thursday night.
When asked if he’d continue to recommend the White House use it, Hahn said he would provide guidance.
“We’re providing guidance to the White house regarding this test,” Hahn said from his self-quarantine, which he’s undergoing after he came into contact with a person who tested positive. “We have been on an ongoing basis. And we will continue to do that. That will be a White House decision.”
Hahn noted that the FDA continues “to recommend its use or to have it available for use” and that, in light of the notice his agency sent, “it might be worth, if the test is negative, getting a second confirmatory test. That’s what our guidance is about.”
He also said the FDA is continuing to investigate the issue but that others haven’t reported the same problems.
“There are some data to suggest that there may be inaccuracies, false negatives, with the Abbott test,” he said. “However, there are many users who have contacted us and have not had this problem.”
ABC News’ Ben Gittleson