WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Sunday the Trump administration has set a goal for 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine to be available to the American people by the end of the year.
"It's not a pledge, it's a goal of what we're going to mobilize the entire U.S. government and private sector to achieve," Azar said on "Face the Nation."
The Trump administration has launched Operation Warp Speed, led by Moncef Slaoui, a former pharmaceutical executive, and General Gustave Perna, commander of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, to speed up the development and distribution of a coronavirus vaccine.
While some public health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have said it would be at least 12 to 18 months before a vaccine is ready, President Trump and Azar have put forth a more optimistic timeline of January 2021 for the entire U.S. population to begin receiving a vaccine.
"What we're doing is wringing the inefficiency out of the development process to make the development side faster to get to a safe and effective vaccine," Azar said Sunday. "And at the same time, we're going to scale up commercial-sized manufacturing to produce hundreds of millions of doses at risk. They may not pan out. They might not prove to be safe and effective, but we'll have it so we can begin administration right away."
Asked whether a vaccine would require booster shots or whether hundreds of millions of doses will be sufficient, Azar said development programs will explore whether a vaccine can be administered in a single shot or multiple with a booster.
"That's why you don't go into battle with just one target here," he said, adding the pool of 100 vaccine candidates has been narrowed to 14, with a further winnowing expected to four to six that the federal government places "the big financial bets behind."
Azar also defended the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is part of HHS, from criticism related to coronavirus testing, including from White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who said Sunday the agency "really let the country down" in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak.
Governors had urged the Trump administration to craft a national testing strategy, though the White House largely placed the onus on the states to ramp up testing for the coronavirus.
"We were confronting a situation here that's completely novel," Azar said. "There has never been a national immediate testing regime across public and private sector. We have had to literally build this from the ground up."
Azar said the role of the CDC is to develop an initial, "low throughput" test for public health labs to conduct initial diagnosis, while the private sector is tasked with scaling up high throughput test capacities.
"I don't believe the CDC let this country down," Azar said. "I believe the CDC serves an important public health role and what was always critical was to get the private sector to the table."