WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Friday that every American will have access to a coronavirus vaccine by April, the latest in a series of ever more optimistic predictions about a vaccination program that has yet to secure FDA approval.
Several of Trump’s critics expressed skepticism about that timeline.
As he faces reelection in November, Trump has often offered rosy – and incorrect – assessments about the speed for defeating the virus. In March, he said he wanted to see “packed” churches and businesses reopened by Easter. He also repeatedly set unrealistic deadlines for when everyone in the nation would have access to a test.
Yet Trump nevertheless set a marker Friday for the vaccination, a hard deadline – even if the target comes six months after the election. To hit the goal, White House aides said the government would need to have 100 million doses produced by year’s end.
“Hundreds of millions of doses will be available every month, and we expect to have enough vaccines for every American by April,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday. “I think distribution will go even quicker than most people think.”
Trump’s critics expressed skepticism about the speed of delivery, citing logistical challenges as well as concerns that Trump will promise virtually anything in the weeks before the election and as the nation wrestles with a pandemic that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans. Though several vaccine trials are underway, none have been approved and public health experts have noted the process takes months at best.
Jonathan Reiner, professor of Medicine and Surgery at George Washington University, said the logistical challenges are daunting.
“This country has never vaccinated more than about 160 million people in a single year for the flu,” he said. “Now we need to vaccinate 330 million people with 2 doses (660 million injections) of vaccines that have not yet been shown to be safe and effective and have unique transport and storage requirements necessitating ultra cold transport.”
Reiner added: “To vaccinate the entire country by April would require more than 4 million inoculations per day. I don’t see it happening that quickly.”
Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, noted that there currently isn’t a vaccine known to be effective and safe.
“And we probably won’t have that information until end of the year at earliest,” he said. “At that point how quickly the vaccine can be rolled out depends on which one works, and these have different degrees of storage complexity.”
Trump’s political foes were more blunt.
“Anybody who believes anything he says about vaccines is an idiot,” said former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois, who briefly challenged Trump for the GOP presidential nomination.
Trump’s assessment was more optimistic than the one offered recently by Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Redfield told lawmakers this week that a vaccine could be available by late spring or next summer.
“If you are asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of (a) vaccine to get back to our regular life I think we are probably looking at third – late second quarter, third quarter 2021,” Redfield said.
The testimony drew a sharp rebuke from Trump, who said he believed Redfield was “confused” by lawmakers’ questioning.
Scott Atlas, one of Trump’s coronavirus advisers, told reporters Friday the U.S. will have more than 100 million vaccine doses available by the end of this year. Doses will first go to first responders and individuals with high risks. Those priority recipients will be able to take the vaccine by January at the latest, he said.
“By April, every single American who wants to be vaccinated will have the ability to be vaccinated,” Atlas said.
Contributing: Nicholas Wu