Donald Trump says a vaccine could be in place by the end of 2020—is that even possible?

  • The administration has implemented the “Operation Warp Speed” program
  • Some experts believe Trump’s timeline is too optimistic
  • The fastest vaccine ever produced still took four years

President Donald Trump said on May 15 that he hopes to have a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2020—but multiple experts say that’s counting on the process going perfectly. 

Trump said he plans to reach that goal with Operation Warp Speed

“Operation Warp Speed: That means big, and it means fast,” Trump said from the White House Rose Garden. “A massive scientific and industrial, logistic endeavor, unlike anything our country has seen since the Manhattan Project.”

According to USA Today, Operation Warp Speed allows the U.S. government to invest in manufacturing top vaccine candidates before they are approved, taking on the financial costs, legal liability, and clinical trial costs.  

Experts are skeptical of Operation Warp Speed’s timeline because the fastest scientists previously developed a new vaccine was four years. Most take much longer. For a vaccine to be ready by next January (or June), everything would have to go perfectly. 

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health Rick Bright testified to the House of Representatives on May 14 that Trump’s plan is an “accelerated timeline” that might be too optimistic, according to NBC News

“We’ve never seen everything go perfectly,” Bright said. “I still think 12-18 months is an aggressive schedule, and I think it’s going to take longer than that to do so.”

But Operation Warp Speed chief, Moncef Slaoui, said Trump’s goal was “very credible,” the New York Times reported

He said in an interview that having the vaccine in widespread distribution by 2021 is “a very aggressive timeline” but he wasn’t afraid of Trump’s goal. “I would not have committed unless I thought it was achievable,” Slaoui said. 

While it’s true that no vaccine has been developed this quickly before, this is also the first time the entire world’s science industry has focused collectively on getting one. Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told NBC News this vaccine research has been “fast-tracked by scientists, drug companies and nations—rallied by the World Health Organization.”

The U.S. alone has promised to invest energy and resources. For example, the Pentagon said the Department of Defense would help distribute the vaccine quickly once one has been developed.  

There are 110 COVID-10 vaccines in development, and eight have already tested potential vaccine candidates in human subjects, including biotech company Moderna, Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, the Chinese company CanSino, and the University of Oxford, working with AstraZeneca.

Still, infectious disease physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security Dr. Amesh Adalja told the New York Times that for a vaccine to be ready by January, “everything would have to go perfect.”

Sources: USA Today, New York Times, NBC News

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