WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – As the nation’s coronavirus death toll neared 200,000, top administration health officials on Sunday (Sept 20) delicately sidestepped US President Donald Trump’s ambitious declaration last week that a coronavirus vaccine would be available for every American by April.

Instead, Admiral Brett Giroir, who heads up national testing efforts, and Mr Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services, offered a slightly more conservative timetable for vaccine availability.

Both seemed to defend the forecasts made by experts including Dr Robert Redfield, the head of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who was publicly rebuked by the president for estimating that an effective vaccine might not be widely available to the general public until the middle of next year.

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Adm Giroir told host Jake Tapper that “in front of the Senate, Dr Redfield and I both said that a vaccine that would be widely available in hundreds of millions of doses would not likely happen until mid-2021. That is a fact.”

However, he said, the president was correct in saying that “We could have as many as a hundred million doses by the end of this year. That is correct.” “I think everybody is right,” Adm Giroir said.

Mr Trump has often promised that the United States would produce a vaccine before Election Day on Nov 3. But his optimism and projections for widespread availability have been roundly disputed.

At the White House on Friday at a news conference, Mr Trump said that once a vaccine is authorised, “distribution will begin within 24 hours after notice.”

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He added: “We will have manufactured at least 100 million vaccine doses before the end of the year. And likely much more than that. Hundreds of millions of doses will be available every month, and we expect to have enough vaccines for every American by April.”

That translates to delivering vaccines to an estimated 330 million Americans by spring.

Those pronouncements have fuelled public wariness over a rushed vaccine, evident in recent polls showing an eroding confidence in a coronavirus vaccine.

In a new ABC News/Ipsos poll, fewer than 1 in 10 Americans had a great deal of confidence in the president’s ability to confirm vaccine effectiveness; 18 per cent reported only a “good amount” of confidence.

And in an apparent response to calls for transparency that could address those concerns, several vaccine makers publicly released traditionally secret protocols in the last week. Those efforts also are aimed at quelling scientists’ fears that the accelerated timetables under discussion could lead to a vaccine that is either unsafe, doesn’t work or isn’t fully vetted.

The question of whether politics is overriding science in the race for a vaccine and research on treatments has dogged the Trump administration for months. And Mr Azar has been a focal point for such criticism, drawing attention again this weekend after issuing a stunning declaration of authority that barred the nation’s health agencies from signing any new rules regarding the nation’s foods, medicines, medical devices and other products, including vaccines.

Public health experts and lawmakers have expressed alarm at other HHS policies put in place by Mr Azar and his deputies: censoring and altering CDC researchers’ reports on the virus; a recent contretemps over testing of asymptomatic people; and overruling the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by promoting largely unproven treatments or lab tests.

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Mr Azar did not address the uproar over his efforts to rein in decisions made by the CDC and the FDA during the pandemic, nor did he talk about his new order restricting agencies’ authority.

But both Adm Giroir and Mr Azar also reiterated the need for the public to wear masks, a practice the president often mocks. Mr Trump’s recent campaign rallies are full of supporters who do not wear face coverings, in violation of mask requirements in some localities.



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