A top White House adviser on Friday called President Donald Trump’s long-shot pledge to have a coronavirus vaccine by Nov. 3 “kind of an arbitrary deadline,” as Election Day prepares to come and go with no shot having even applied for approval yet.
“We’ve got nearly half a dozen vaccines that are in Phase Three clinical trials, which is record time to get it there for a novel virus like we’re dealing with,” White House strategic communications director Alyssa Farah told reporters. “We’re still highly confident we’ll have one by the end of the year and be prepared to deploy it to a hundred million Americans.”
“His goal has never — Election Day is kind of an arbitrary deadline,” she added.
The acknowledgment comes as Trump has softened his promise — which always appeared improbable and politically motivated — on the campaign trail in recent weeks.
Trump’s rosy vaccine timeline has been undercut repeatedly by his administration’s health officials, who have said that even with researchers working at a historic pace, it could be well into 2021 before a vaccine is widely available to Americans.
Democrats, meanwhile, have expressed fears that the Trump administration would rush to approve a vaccine that had not been proved safe or effective for political purposes, though the Trump administration has repeatedly sought to assure that any vaccine would need to meet independent safety and efficacy standards before its approval. Still, the public concern prompted vaccine-makers to issue an unusual joint pledge last month.
In the Oct. 22 debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Trump claimed that “we have a vaccine” that is “ready” and would be announced “within weeks.”
Pressed on that timeline by moderator Kristen Welker, as well as how his own administration had contradicted it, the president insisted his timeline would bear out but then said he could make no guarantees, and that there was a “good chance” of having a vaccine before the end of the year.
Asked which companies were close to having vaccines in a matter of weeks, Trump named Johnson & Johnson, whose trials were paused at the time after reporting a serious illness in their studies. He also named Moderna as well as Pfizer, which announced earlier this month that it would not seek emergency authorization for its vaccine before the third week of November.
At a campaign rally in Arizona this week, Trump assured attendees that they would have a vaccine “momentarily,” a promise that came as the country has seen a surge in new cases nearly everywhere.
The U.S. set a new single-day record for new cases on Thursday, reporting more than 90,000 new infections, and is creeping toward 9 million known cases in total.
On Friday, Farah argued that Trump’s push for a vaccine at breakneck speed stemmed from the continued threat of coronavirus.
“Americans are still suffering from this virus. The sooner we can get it, the better. That’s his goal,” she said.