President Trump showcases vaccine progress at Triangle biotech firm

The president’s visit also highlights North Carolina as key swing state in 2020

President Donald Trump visits Morrisville pharmaceutical plant on Monday, July 27. Photo via Robert Clark, North State Journal

MORRISVILLE — Air Force One landed at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Monday so President Donald Trump could tour a nearby biotech facility, showcasing his administration’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic amid a tough election year.

Trump was joined at Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies’ Innovation Center by several of North Carolina’s top Republican political figures, which he thanked for their presence and praised for their work. Like the president, some of them, including Sen. Thom Tillis and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, have difficult races ahead in the swing state.

“Sen. Thom Tillis, thank you very much,” Trump said in his remarks. “Good job you’ve done. Thank you very much. You really have. Reps. Richard Hudson, David Rouzer, Mark Walker, Dan Bishop and Greg Murphy, thank you. All friends. All warriors. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who I hear is doing a great job — where is Dan? Stand up, Dan. Great job, Dan.”

But the president was not there just to boost Republicans’ chances in November’s elections. He spent most of his time speaking about the progress being made on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump’s comments covered the creation of vaccines, therapeutic drugs to treat those who are already infected and the provision of preventative equipment across the country to areas that most need it.

President Donald Trump visits Morrisville pharmaceutical plant on Monday, July 27.

“We’re here, actually, today to discuss the exciting progress that we’ve achieved under the Operation Warp Speed — our historic initiative to develop, test, manufacture and deliver a vaccine in record time,” Trump said. “I’m therefore proud to announce that this morning, the Moderna vaccine has officially entered Phase Three already. And that’s Phase Three clinical trials: the final stage before approval. There’s never been anything like this in terms of speed — nothing even close. A second vaccine is likely to enter Phase Three in a matter of days.”

Four other vaccine candidates are on the verge of entering the final trial period and will do so in the coming weeks, according to the president. The Novavax vaccine, components of which are being developed in the Morrisville facility, is among them. Trump touted the federal funding provided to Novavax and other similar projects.

“In addition to our $1.6 billion investment in Novavax, we’ve issued a $483 million contract with Moderna, a $1.2 billion contract with AstraZeneca, a $465 million contract with Janssen, and just last week, a $1.95 billion agreement with Pfizer. Tremendous progress is being made with all of those great companies.”

The president said part of the agreement with Pfizer was that the company would deliver 100 million doses of the vaccine immediately after it is approved by the FDA. This would be done by manufacturing the vaccine candidates before they are approved and then sending out the ones that end up being successful in combating the virus.

“Instead of the usual sequence of vaccine development, testing and trials, followed by production, our strategy is to conduct these phases simultaneously,” Trump said. “We’re mass-producing all of the most promising vaccine candidates in advance so that on the day one that it’s approved, it’ll be available to the American people immediately. And we’ll probably have a lot for a lot of other people throughout the world. The world is suffering from this China virus.”

Another dimension of Operation Warp Speed the president focused on is the advance in therapeutics. These treatments are meant to bring down the mortality rate for those who have already contracted the disease. The president said more than 140 clinical trials for treatments are underway and repeatedly cited Remdesivir as having a “tremendous impact.”

“Due to the medical advances we’ve already achieved and our increased knowledge in how to treat the virus, the mortality rate for patients over the age of 18 is 85% lower than it was in April — think of that: 85% — and is 25% lower than Europe as a whole,” Trump said. “In the middle of April, more than 22% of all deaths in the United States were attributable to the China virus. As of last week, that number has dropped down — as of last week, it’s dropped down to under 7%.

He also focused on his administration’s response in providing protective equipment to the states whenever it was requested, saying, “anything they need, we send them immediately.” He particularly focused on their efforts in sending PPE to nursing homes.

“Last week, FEMA sent additional personal protective equipment to over 15,000 nursing homes, including 643,000 pairs of protective eyewear, 7 million masks, 34 million pairs of gloves, and 6 million gowns,” Trump said. “It’s a lot.”

Trump frequently defended his administration’s efforts by comparing his results to other countries’ and his predecessor’s.

“Through our relentless efforts, we’ve completely rebuilt our stockpile, which the previous administration depleted and did not refill,” he said. “The cupboards were bare. I say it often. In total, we’ve now distributed nearly 100 million N95 masks, 35 million surgical masks, 15 million face shields and much, much more.”

He also said the U.S. has conducted more than 52 million tests, so those pointing to high confirmed-case counts were not being fair.

“That’s more than all of Europe put together, times two,” Trump said. “Nobody is even close.”

Because of this lack of testing overseas, the president said they are closely monitoring the Texas border because there are “some very, very highly infected countries outside our borders.” He mentioned specifically Latin America becoming “now the region in the world with the most active reported infections, by far.

“America will develop a vaccine very soon, and we will defeat the virus. We will have it delivered in record time,” he said.