As it races against time to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, the US is working “very closely” with India on the project, President Donald Trump has said.
Unveiling ‘Operation Warp Speed’ to ready a vaccine by the end of the year, Trump said on Friday that “many of the great scientists, researchers” from the US Indian community were working on the project.
Underlining the close cooperation between the two countries in fighting “the common enemy”, he had tweeted earlier that the US was donating ventilators used to treat COVID-19 patients to India.
India, for its part, had lifted a ban on the export of hydroxychloroquine at the personal request of Trump and sent 3.5 million tablets and nine tonnes of ingredients to manufacture it last month.
Trump made a pledge to make the vaccine available to the rest of the world at an affordable cost.
“The last thing anybody is looking for is profit,” he said. “People are looking to come up with the answer.”
Trump said that the US was ready to work with other countries in developing the vaccine and “we have no ego when it comes to this”.
“We’ll be very happy if they are able to do it. We’ll help them with delivery. We’ll help them with – in every way we can.”
“We’re working very much with India too,” Trump said in reply to a reporter’s question and repeated: “We’re working very closely also with India. Correct”
“We have a tremendous Indian population in the United States. And many of the people that you’re talking about are working on the vaccine too. Great scientists and researchers.”
Setting a possible year-end deadline, Trump said that the vaccine would be available to all who wanted it in the US and the military, the other arms of the government and the private sector would be fully mobilised to get them out.
He appointed Moncef Slaoui, who is the former head of GlaxoSmithKline vaccines division, to head Operation Warp Speed with General Gustave Perna looking after the logistics.
Slaoui said that he was confident the project will “deliver a few hundred million doses of vaccine by the end of 2020”.
Trump likened Operation Warp Speed to the Manhattan Project during the World War II when scientists and government officials worked round-the-clock to develop the atom bomb in four years in the belief it would end the war.
Outlining Operation Warp Speed’s strategy, Trump said that experts had looked at 100 vaccine projects, narrowed the list down to 14 and were now trying to winnow it further.
The government will provide resources to the developers and when they are at the final trial stage, “Operation Warp Speed will be simultaneously accelerating its manufacturing” so that it is available when there is a go-ahead.
“It’s risky, it’s expensive, but we’ll be saving massive amounts of time. We’ll be saving years if we do this properly.”
Researchers at Oxford University have one of the most advanced COVID-19 vaccine projects and the Serum Institute of India is partnering with them to produce millions of its does in anticipation of the trials succeeding.
The university’s Jenner Institute vaccine is reported to have shown good results in monkeys and human trials are scheduled to start this month.
The US government is funding the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi’s COVID-19 vaccine. project and the company reportedly plans to start human trials in September.
Having a vaccine ready – or almost ready – by the November election could help Trump.
Vaccine development, which could speed up the re-opening of the US economy, has played into the polarised political ecology of the US.
A former official told a Democrat-dominated House of Representatives panel on Wednesday that it was unlikely a vaccine could be developed in even 18 months as some Trump administration experts had earlier said.
Robert Bright, who had been ousted from his post overseeing vaccine development, said that it “normally, it takes up to 10 years to make a vaccine” and warned about the risks of a speeded-up process.
“If we rush too quickly and consider cutting out critical steps, we may not have a full assessment of the safety of that vaccine,” he said
Reflecting the political cynicism within the US media critical of Trump, a reporter asked him, “What happens if China is the country that develops the vaccine? What happens if it’s China? Will the US still have access to that vaccine?”
He replied that the US would get access to it.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency on Wednesday accused hackers linked to the Chinese government of trying to steal COVID-19 vaccine research in the US.