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Esper ‘completely confident’ US military will deliver coronavirus vaccine by year’s end

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper delivers a speech during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 18, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne Clark)
May 26, 2020

Defense Secretary Mark Esper indicated that the Department of Defense will be able to manufacture a coronavirus vaccine and will distribute it by the end of 2020.

During a Friday interview on NBC’s “TODAY,” host Savannah Guthrie asked Esper to elaborate on comments he made at the White House, that a vaccine will be ready “at scale” for the military to deliver by the end of the year.

“Will we have a vaccine by the end of the year? –@savannahguthrie,” The TODAY show tweeted. “I’m confident we’ll get it. (Department of Defense) has the expertise and the capability to get the manufacturing done, and the logistics, and I’m confident that we will deliver.”

“I was so struck by that because there were no weasel words, there was no ‘we hope to have it by the end of the year,'” Guthrie said. “You said ‘we will have a vaccine ready at scale’ – meaning at presumably hundreds of millions of doses – ‘ready to go by the end of the year.’ Is that possible?”

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“Absolutely it’s possible, and I’ve spoken to our medical experts about this. We are completely confident that we can get this done,” Esper said. “Look, the Defense Department has been on top of the coronavirus since the early days. We were in this fight from late January on, when we were first bringing Americans back from China. 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.”

Some experts have indicated normal vaccine development typically takes between 12 to 18 months. White House Coronavirus Task Force Dr. Anthony Fauci previously indicated having a vaccine ready by January 2021, at about the 12-month mark, would be “doable.”

Widely delivering a vaccine before the end of 2020, however, would place the vaccine development process for coronavirus ahead of the normal vaccine development timeframe.

Esper made his commitment for the vaccine’s availability amid efforts within the Trump administration to accelerate the vaccine development process, in an effort dubbed “Operation Warp Speed.”

President Donald Trump, in an interview earlier this month, said the U.S. military will play a key role distributing the vaccine across the country. He described an effort by the U.S. military to pre-position its supply chains in anticipation of the vaccine’s readiness, so they can deliver it as quickly as possible.

“Our military is now being mobilized so at the end of the year we’re going to be able to give it to a lot of people very, very rapidly,” Trump said.

Trump said he wants the vaccine to be available for most of the U.S. population, but said the initial focus of distribution will go to sick and elderly individuals at the highest risk from the coronavirus.

“We’re going to focus on nursing homes and, you know, senior citizen centers,” he said, “because if you look at it, that is a very vulnerable group. It’s a terrible thing. So we’re going to be focused on that.”

Oxford University announced Friday that an experimental coronavirus vaccine it was developing had already progressed to advanced stages of human trials and will be tested on 10,260 volunteers in the U.K. to determine its effectiveness. If successful, the vaccine could be on the market by September, according to AstraZeneca, a drugmaker partnered with the Oxford University trial effort.

Other government officials involved in the vaccine development told NBC news there are 14 potential coronavirus vaccines under development under the “Operation Warp Speed” vaccine effort.