WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence visited vaccine development sites on Monday, marking the beginning of the largest vaccine research trial yet. Their trips to North Carolina and Florida, respectively, come as the White House is grappling with its most prominent virus case since the crisis begin and a nationwide spike in the virus.
“We’re doing well on vaccines, we’re doing well on therapeutics. And now I’m heading to North Carolina to look exactly at that,” Trump said as he departed the White House.
The economic toll of the pandemic has undone the job gains of Trump’s presidency. Trump aides view the hunt for the vaccine as something they can still get right.
Under the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine program, multiple COVID-19 vaccines are being developed simultaneously with a goal of delivering 300 million safe and effective doses by January 2021.
Trump was visiting the FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies’ Innovation Center in Morrisville, a suburb of Raleigh. The facility has begun production of the first batch of a possible vaccine developed by Novavax, a Maryland company.
The batches produced at the North Carolina facility will be used in a Phase 3 clinical trial of up to 30,000 subjects, which is expected to begin this fall and will determine the drug’s safety and effectiveness, according to Novavax, which received $1.6 billion from the federal government under Operation Warp Speed.
The president is working to highlight progress in the development of a vaccine before voters go to the polls in about three months. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has said he is cautiously optimistic that one and maybe more vaccines will be available by the end of this year.
“The ultimate goal of this would be to get full licensure based on clear-cut efficacy and safety data,” Fauci told reporters Monday.
Peter Navarro, a senior Trump economic adviser, framed the effort as a political home run for Trump, who pushed for development of the vaccine while simultaneously working on a process to distribute it quickly.
The political imperative for Trump has sparked concerns among members of Congress that Trump could try to take shortcuts in the approval process. Administration experts have dismissed those concerns, with Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn telling reporters Monday that the FDA “will not cut corners” to evaluate a vaccine.
Hahn joined Pence in Miami to highlight the beginning of Phase 3 testing of a different vaccine candidate developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., which began its first injections Monday.
“It’s a historic day, a day when we begin in earnest to work on a vaccine,” Pence said.
About 4.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported in the United States and there have been more than 146,000 deaths.
North Carolina is a key battleground state in the coming election, and Trump’s visit marks his 10th trip to the state during his presidency. Trump won the state by nearly 4 percentage points in 2016.