Trump names ex-pharma executive, Army general to lead coronavirus vaccine effort

Trump's suggestion that a coronavirus vaccine could come within months has been refuted by prominent health experts and veteran vaccine developers.

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By Adam Edelman

President Donald Trump on Friday announced a team of two men to lead his administration’s effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine, dubbed “Operation Warp Speed.”

The team consists of Moncef Slaoui, the former head of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline's vaccines division, and Gen. Gustave Perna, a four-star U.S. Army general, Trump said during a press conference in the White House Rose Garden.

Slaoui will serve as the chief scientist for the White House initiative and Perna will serve as its chief operating officer, said Trump, whose suggestions that a coronavirus vaccine could come within months have been repeatedly refuted by prominent health experts and veteran vaccine developers.

Trump repeated his timeline objective Friday, saying he wanted a vaccine ready "by the end of the year if we can."

"We would love to see if we can do it prior to the end of the year. We think we are going to have some very good results coming out very quickly," he said.

Trump also indicated that he would urge state governments to reopen their economies regardless of whether the timeline was met, and at one point suggested, without providing evidence, that the virus could simply disappear even without the introduction of a vaccine.

"It's not solely vaccine-based. Other things have never had a vaccine and they go away," he said.

"I think we're going to have a vaccine in the pretty near future," the president said. "And if we do, we're going to really be a big step ahead. And if we don't, it'll be like so many other cases where you had a problem come in, it'll go away at some point, it'll go away. It may flare up and it may not flare up."

"Vaccine or no vaccine, we're back," he added.

Trump, who was not wearing a face covering, was flanked by several top administration officials and health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, who the White House had said earlier this week would self-quarantine after possible exposure to COVID-19.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, was standing right behind Trump during the press conference Friday and was wearing a face mask.

Trump said it would "make sense" for states with the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths to receive prioritized access to the vaccine when it becomes available.

He also said that officials had narrowed the number of vaccine candidates to 14 — as NBC News reported earlier this month — and that the federal government would begin developing doses of those vaccines, so that if one is proven to be effective and safe, it would be ready to be administered as soon as it is approved by the FDA.

Trump added that the U.S. would be working with other nations in developing the vaccine and that the country to develop the first safe one would share it with the world.

Trump's remarks, and the remarks of others, were drowned out by a loud chorus of truck drivers honking their horns nearby. Trump claimed the truckers were protesting in support of his administration, telling reporters the horns were a "sign of love."

But the truckers told the NBC News affiliate in Washington that the honking was an effort to protest low freight shipping rates brought about by the pandemic.

Trump’s announcement came just one day after an ousted top Health and Human Services official testified before Congress that the administration's timeline for a coronavirus vaccine is likely too optimistic — and that there's "no plan" to mass produce and distribute one.

Hopes that a vaccine could be ready in 12 to 18 months assume that "everything goes perfectly," the official, Dr. Rick Bright, told the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health, adding, "We've never seen everything go perfectly."

Bright, who until last month was deputy assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for preparedness and response, as well as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, alleges he was shoved out of a key coronavirus response job for pushing back on "efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections."

Even Trump's Health and Human Services secretary, Alex Azar, conceded during an interview earlier Friday with Fox Business that the president's timeline for a vaccine to come by the end of the year was "a stretch."