Trump Vows to Use Defense Production Act If Needed for Vaccines

President Donald Trump celebrated the development of coronavirus vaccines at a White House summit on Tuesday and vowed to use executive powers if necessary to acquire sufficient doses, as the number of U.S. cases surpassed 15 million.

“This will quickly and dramatically reduce deaths and hospitalizations,” Trump said of the vaccines. He added that there were also “some big ones we’re going to be announcing soon,” naming drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.

Trump raised the specter of invoking the Defense Production Act -- which allows the president to require companies to prioritize contracts deemed essential for national security -- if the U.S. struggles to obtain the vaccine for its citizens.

“If we have any problems, we will be instituting the Defense Production Act and make sure we don’t have any problems,” he said.

Administration officials billed the three-hour summit as an opportunity to assure the public that vaccines were safe and effective, ahead of the expected emergency approval of shots developed by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. in the coming days. Both companies have asked for Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization after preliminary data from clinical trials showed their vaccines were better than 90% effective.

An FDA advisory panel is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss Pfizer’s clinical trial results and recommend whether the vaccine should be cleared for use. FDA authorization is expected soon after.

But the event also served as a victory lap for Trump as he looks to repair his legacy on coronavirus which has left more than 284,000 Americans dead. His handling of the pandemic eroded his political standing ahead of his November electoral defeat.

Before Trump spoke, the White House played a video of skeptics -- including President-elect Joe Biden and the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci -- criticizing Trump’s pronouncement that the U.S. could develop a vaccine by the end of the year.

Trump thanked and congratulated a list of doctors and public health officials who have worked on the pandemic response and Operation Warp Speed. Fauci, who has clashed with the president over his refusal to back measures such as mask-wearing, wasn’t included in the list and didn’t attend the event.

But the celebratory event comes amid criticism that the administration missed an opportunity to secure more doses of Pfizer’s shot early in the development process, with the Washington Post reporting the U.S. had the ability to secure an additional 100 million doses of the vaccine.

Administration officials have downplayed the concerns, saying they expect to roll out shots from multiple manufacturers and have enough doses for every American who wants the vaccine by the end of June. But that timeline could be jeopardized if additional viable vaccine candidates do not materialize.

The president looked to reassure Americans with the signing of a largely symbolic executive order affirming the president’s commitment to ensure that the U.S. had early access to the vaccine. The order also asks federal agencies to create a rubric for U.S. assistance to other countries to gain access to excess doses of the vaccine, with the U.S. offering subsidies or donations. Administration officials say the U.S. has the option to purchase as many as 3 billion doses of the vaccine over time.

But the order doesn’t appear to have provisions forcing drugmakers to sell the vaccine to America before other countries, and Moncef Slaoui, who was selected in May to lead the White House’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine development program, said Tuesday he did not know what the order would do.

“Frankly, I don’t know, and frankly, I’m staying out of this. I can’t comment,” Slaoui told ABC News. “I literally don’t know.”

The summit also drew headlines after Pfizer and Moderna said they weren’t planning to participate.

The White House said Pfizer and Moderna weren’t participating because Peter Marks, the director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the FDA, would be in attendance. Marks is leading the approval process for the companies’ emergency use authorizations, and administration officials said they wanted to avoid a conflict of interest.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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