Stephen Hahn, the head of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), refused on Sunday to back Donald Trump’s optimistic claim that a vaccine against the novel coronavirus will be ready “long before the end of the year”.
CNN’s Dana Bash asked Mr Hahn: “You’ve said you’re optimistic about having a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year or early next year. There’s a obviously a big difference – you know better than I – between discovering a vaccine and having 300 million doses ready at local doctors’ offices across the country.
“How likely do you think it is that Americans will be able to get to their doctor’s office to get a vaccine in January?”
Mr Hahn hedged: “Well that’s one of the core responsibilities of the government, is to actually develop a plan for making sure that people actually can get access to the vaccine when it’s available.
“I can’t speculate when a vaccine will be available, although I think amazing work has been done by the [National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] and others in terms of the development.”
And pushed on Mr Trump’s hopeful claims about the speed of vaccine development, Mr Hahn steered clear.
“I’m optimistic based on what we’ve seen so far, but I really can’t speculate on that. Our job at FDA is to look at the data when it’s available.”
The president gave his exuberantly optimistic prediction at a 4 July rally in Washington, DC on Saturday, telling a socially distanced crowd that “I want to send our thanks to the scientists and researchers around the country, and even around the world, who are at the forefront of our historic effort to rapidly develop and deliver life-saving treatments and ultimately a vaccine.
“We are unleashing our nation’s scientific brilliance and we’ll likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year.”
Mr Trump’s words chimed with other previous statements in which he expected the coronavirus to “disappear” by itself. In yesterday’s same CNN interview, Mr Hahn repeatedly declined to engage with that notion altogether.
Multiple candidate vaccines are currently in trial around the world, some of them in advanced stages. A vaccine developed in Oxford, in the UK, is one of the only ones in the most advanced phase 3 of its trial; others are getting closer to that point.
However, White House adviser Dr Anthony Fauci recently warned that even when the US is ready to distribute an effective vaccine, the herd immunity needed for it to work may be impossible to achieve given the number of people who currently resist taking vaccines for any illness.
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