Esper doubles down on coronavirus vaccine this year: 'We will deliver'

Esper doubles down on coronavirus vaccine this year: 'We will deliver'
© Getty Images

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to update Americans on omicron; Congress back Former defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Major Russia weapons test stokes tensions MORE on Friday doubled down on the assertion that the Trump administration will develop and widely distribute a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year, a time frame doubted by leading health experts.

“Absolutely it's possible,” Esper said during an interview on “Today.”

“I've spoken to our medical experts about this, we are completely confident that we can get this done. ... We will deliver, on time, the vaccines," he said.

ADVERTISEMENT

President TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE last week unveiled a federal task force in charge of a $10 billion effort he hopes will produce and largely distribute a coronavirus vaccine by the end of 2020.

“We will deliver, by the end of this year, a vaccine, at scale, to treat the American people and our partners abroad,” Esper said at the White House at the time.

The Pentagon, however, later clarified that Esper was only announcing a goal, not a promise.  

The assertion that a vaccine could be produced in such a limited time frame has been met with skepticism from health experts, who have said the development of a new vaccine can take 12 to 18 months at least.

Top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony FauciAnthony FauciBiden reignites debate over travel bans Overnight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Omicron sets off a flurry of responses Newsweek opinion editor: Fauci represents 'extremely arrogant and highly politicized elite' MORE, a key member of the White House's coronavirus task force, has said it’s possible a vaccine will be ready in January but there is “no guarantee” it will be effective.

And National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins last week said that producing a vaccine by January is “a stretch goal.”

Currently, there are several vaccine efforts in the first stages of testing. Among the most promising is one at Oxford University, where researchers on Friday announced that they are now moving into phases two and three.

Another leading vaccine effort, from the biotech company Moderna, announced some positive early results from a phase one trial earlier this week.

Pressed on the ability of the administration to ramp up production and distribution of hundreds of millions of doses of a vaccine should it prove effective, Esper said Friday that he’s had internal meetings with Department of Defense (DOD) officials “to make sure we are properly aligned and resourced.”

“Again, I’m confident we’ll get it. DOD has the expertise and the capability, of course, to get the manufacturing done and the logistics and I’m confident that we will deliver," he said.

Asked if he was concerned about a second wave of the illness after a leaked Pentagon memo revealed Tuesday that top DOD officials have been planning for such a possibility well into 2021, Esper said the department “is looking at a variety of futures.”

He noted that he had the entire top military chain of command meet with Fauci and coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx last week and “spent over an hour on the teleconference with them to talk about this and what we may do.”

“A second wave is a possibility. I don’t think the coronavirus is going away anytime soon, at least not until we have a vaccine or a cure," Esper said.