Defense secretary doubles down on aggressive timeline to have coronavirus vaccine ready by the end of the year


U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks as President Donald Trump listens during a news briefing on the latest development of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. at the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House March 18, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Alex Wong | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense Mark Esper doubled down on Friday by saying the Pentagon will meet an aggressive timeline to have a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year, a deadline doubted by leading health officials.

“You know, our medical experts, our researchers have been working on this vaccine now, and therapeutics and diagnostics for a few months,” Esper explained on NBC’s “TODAY.” “We’ve been ahead of the curve and in the fight from day one, and this is the next phase of this battle, and we will deliver on time the vaccines,” he added, saying he was “completely confident” that the Pentagon will deliver.

Esper downplayed characterizations made by health officials that a vaccine within the year would be “aspirational.”

“Well, you know, when Eisenhower launched the U.S. military against Nazi Germany, he didn’t say, ‘We might win World War II, we’ll try.’ When John F. Kennedy aspired to put a man on the moon, he didn’t say, ‘We’ll give it a good shot.’ He said, ‘We will do it,'” the Pentagon chief said.

“The Defense Department, once again, is committed to get this done. We’re going to live up to the expectations, and we’re going to deliver on this virus,” he said, adding that the Pentagon is preparing for a potential second wave of the coronavirus.

Last week, President Donald Trump unveiled a federal task force in charge of a $10 billion effort that will help produce and widely distribute a coronavirus vaccine by the end of 2020. 

“We will deliver, by the end of this year, a vaccine, at scale, to treat the American people and our partners abroad,” Esper said alongside Trump.

The coronavirus originated near the city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei province and has since triggered a global pandemic that has hit the U.S. harder than any other country. More than 1.6 million cases and at least 95,000 deaths have so far been counted in the U.S., data from Johns Hopkins University show.

The White House’s top infectious disease expert said Friday that it is “conceivable” for the U.S. to roll out a coronavirus vaccine by December. 

“I think it is conceivable if we don’t run into things that are, as they say, unanticipated setbacks, that we could have a vaccine that we could be beginning to deploy at the end of this calendar year, December 2020, or into January 2021,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview with NPR on Friday.

Fauci’s comments came less than a week after U.S. biotech company Moderna published positive results from its phase one human trial on its potential vaccine. The National Institutes of Health has partnered with Moderna to accelerate development of a vaccine.

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