President Trump on Friday predicted Pfizer’s promising vaccine will be approved “very, very quickly” as he ticked off successes delivered by Operation Warp Speed, his effort to tackle a coronavirus pandemic that is raging out of control as the world waits on pharmaceutical solutions.
His administration expects to have 20 million doses available by December to begin vaccinating health workers, the vulnerable and elderly immediately upon approval. Eventually, doses will be available to anyone free of charge.
“Millions of doses will soon be going out the door,” Mr. Trump said in the Rose Garden, his first public remarks since Joseph R. Biden was projected the winner of this month’s presidential election.
He said New York may have to wait for vaccine doses, citing Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s skepticism of the federal review under Mr. Trump. Mr. Cuomo wants to do his own state review.
“That pains me to say that,” Mr. Trump said. “The governor, Gov. Cuomo, will have to let us know when he’s ready for it.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James said the state would fight back if Mr. Trump withholds doses.
“If dissemination of the vaccine takes place in the twilight of a Trump Administration and the president wants to play games with people’s lives, we will sue and we will win,” she said.
Pfizer, which is based in New York, said Monday its vaccine was 90% effective in a preliminary analysis, cheering a world that’s been upended by the pandemic.
“This far exceeds any and all expectations,” Mr. Trump said.
The company could ask the Food and Drug Administration to approve its candidate for emergency use later this month. The U.S. agreed to purchase 100 million doses, enough for 50 million people since it is a two-dose vaccine.
Moncef Slaoui, who is leading the vaccine effort, said the operation is supporting six front-runners using three platforms: messenger RNA from Pfizer and Moderna, adenovirus candidates from AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson and recombinant vaccines from Novavax and Sanofi-GSK.
He said Moderna is finalizing preliminary data and should be following Pfizer in giving a readout soon.
Mr. Slaoui said he expects to have two vaccines approved by end of the year and that 20 million people could be vaccinated by December. He said they should be able to vaccinate 25-30 million more each month afterward, though the allotment could grow as more vaccine candidates gain approval.
Mr. Trump took a victory lap on the vaccine, therapeutics and the economy even as the virus races through the U.S. with alarming speed, with over 150,000 cases detected in a single day for the first time and hospitalizations at their highest levels since the pandemic began.
The seven-day average of COVID-19 deaths has reached more than 1,000 per day in the U.S.
Over 67,000 people are hospitalized, up from 36,000 a month ago and a level that exceeds the Northeast crush last spring and summertime surge in the Sun Belt.
Mr. Trump had been largely silent about the crisis in recent days. He mentioned the pandemic on Twitter, though largely to complain that Pfizer did not release good news about its vaccine until after people voted.
The president said he will not issue stay-at-home orders, as governors announce shutdown orders or rolling closures.
“This administration will not be going into a lockdown,” Mr. Trump said, acknowledging the worsening pandemic and pending certification of the election results.
Health Secretary Alex Azar said there is “light at the end of the tunnel” but people must continue to wear masks, practice distancing and wash their hands.
Vice President Mike Pence said the administration will support states as they try to maintain hospital capacity, noting they’ve been able to ensure ventilators and ICU beds so far.
Mr. Biden, meanwhile, said he was briefed on the pandemic Friday by his COVID-19 advisory board. He called the update “alarming,” with “virtually nowhere getting spared.”
He called on the Trump administration to surge testing kits and protective gear to areas of need.
“This week’s news on progress toward a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is positive, but it will be many months before there is widespread vaccination in this country,” Mr. Biden said. “This crisis demands a robust and immediate federal response, which has been woefully lacking. I am the president-elect, but I will not be president until next year.”
Mr. Biden said he knows people are weary of the pandemic but it “will not go on forever.”
“We are moving toward a vaccine. We are improving our ability to test. We are developing better treatments. We can get through this — and come out the other side stronger,” he said. “But right now is a moment for shared responsibility and shared action. Together, we have the power to rein in this virus.”