- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Trump administration on Wednesday announced a billion-dollar deal with Johnson & Johnson to secure 100 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine once it is developed, with President Trump saying a vaccine should be available well before the end of the year.

As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on public health and the economy, experts have raised concerns about whether a vaccine will be readily affordable and accessible to truly combat the spread in the U.S.

Johnson & Johnson said its vaccine would be provided on a “global not-for-profit basis” as Moderna Inc., another leader in the hunt for a vaccine, said affordability will be top of mind.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Pentagon partnered to provide about $1 billion to support the manufacturing and potential delivery of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine through Janssen, which is part of the pharmaceutical giant.

The federal government would own 100 million doses under the agreement and is allowed to acquire additional doses that would be able to vaccinate up to 300 million people.

“We think we’re going to have the vaccines before the end of the year — maybe long before the end of the year,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House.

If the doses are used in a vaccination “campaign,” they would be available to the general population at no cost.

The health care industry could still charge money to administer the vaccine, HHS said.

Mr. Trump said there has been “tremendous success” on vaccines and therapeutics.

“We’re ready to deliver them literally as soon as they’re OK’d,” the president said.

The administration’s Operation Warp Speed is aimed at helping develop and distribute a vaccine by January.

The U.S. is also distributing remdesivir, an antiviral from Gilead Sciences that has been shown to speed up recovery time from COVID-19, and deploying dexamethasone, a steroid that British researchers found to be effective in saving the lives of patients requiring oxygen or a ventilator.

Many parts of the country are reeling from COVID-19, which is caused by a coronavirus discovered in Wuhan, China, last year. The disease has spread around the globe and led to more than 157,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.

Mr. Trump hosted Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, at the White House on Wednesday.

Arizona is among a number of Sun Belt states that have had a resurgence in COVID-19 cases over the summer, though the rate of increase of new cases in the state has slowed in recent weeks.

“We’re going to keep our guard up, we’re going to stay vigilant, but there’s a real path forward and a common-sense approach that we can apply in Arizona,” Mr. Ducey said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he was cautiously optimistic that Americans will be able to slow the spread without having to resort to the strict lockdown measures that were prevalent in the spring.

“I don’t think we’ll have to go into shutdown mode,” Dr. Fauci said at an event hosted by the Harvard School of Public Health. “I do have an abiding faith in the American spirit.”

Dr. Fauci and others in the Trump administration have said the end of the year or early next year is a realistic time frame for a safe vaccine to become available.

The federal government has invested in a handful of other vaccine candidates as part of Operation Warp Speed.

Moderna and the National Institutes of Health have partnered on one of the most highly touted efforts.

Moderna announced Wednesday that the company had about $400 million in customer deposits on hand at the end of July for the potential supply of a leading vaccine candidate.

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said on an earnings call that the company is charging $32 to $37 per dose for some deals.

“We will be responsible on price well below value during the pandemic,” Mr. Bancel said.

The company’s investigational vaccine induced neutralizing antibodies in mice, according to a study published Wednesday in Nature, a top science journal.

Novavax, a biotechnology company based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, said this week that its vaccine candidate generated “robust” antibodies in a phase one and two trial, which was conducted at two sites in Australia.

The federal government is investing at least $1.6 billion in Novavax’s efforts.

Congress has already put at least $9.5 billion toward vaccine developments.

Senate Democrats have called for an additional $25 billion in emergency funding for vaccines and for the federal government to directly purchase enough doses to provide a COVID-19 vaccine to the U.S. population free of charge.

Democrats also have speculated that Mr. Trump might try to rush an announcement ahead of the November election before a vaccine is ready to hit the market.

The administration said science, not politics, will guide the process.

“We’re following the process every step of the way,” a senior administration official said. “We say this a lot, but I hope that is reassuring, frankly, that we’re not going to cut any corners and that if these vaccines are safe and effective, then the regulatory approval process goes appropriately.”

Moncef Slaoui, who resigned from Moderna’s board this year to be Operation Warp Speed’s chief adviser, suggested recently that additional scrutiny of his personal financial interests could hamper federal progress on vaccines and therapeutics.

He said he is amazed at personal attacks “in a way that, frankly, distracts my energy and the energy of all the teams that we are working together with to deliver.”

“[It] therefore decreases our chances or the speed with which we try to help humanity and the country resolve and address this issue,” Mr. Slaoui said on an episode of “Learning Curve,” an HHS podcast, that was released last week.

Moderna said in May that Mr. Slaoui would divest from the company under pressure from lawmakers such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat.

Liberal advocacy groups filed ethics complaints Wednesday calling on Mr. Slaoui to be categorized as a government employee and not a contractor because it would subject him to additional ethics and disclosure requirements.

Mr. Slaoui is taking a $1 salary for his services.

He said on the podcast that he wakes up at 2:30 or 3 a.m. every day, exercises and takes calls, and then gets into the office by 6 a.m. to put in a full day of work.

Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.

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