By Alfonso Fernandez
Washington, May 15 (efe-epa).- The United States will work closely with other countries, including China, on a Covid-19 vaccine and has set a goal of having one developed by year’s end, President Donald Trump said here Friday.
“We’re gearing up on the assumption that we’ll have in the relatively near future a vaccine,” Trump said at a press conference at the White House Rose Garden.
Trump was joined at the media event by Dr. Moncef Slaoui, a former pharmaceutical company executive who has been named chief scientist of the US’s vaccine development initiative, dubbed “Operation Warp Speed.”
Also in attendance were several members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx; and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Trump reiterated that the coronavirus originated in China and once again accused that country of not doing enough to stop the spread of a disease that became a pandemic.
Nevertheless, in referring to the search for a vaccine, the president set aside his nationalistic, “America First” rhetoric and acknowledged the need for global cooperation.
“We’re working … with other people outside, and that’s fine too. We want to get to the solution. We know exactly where the other countries are, and we’ll be very happy if they’re able to do it. We’ll help them with delivery. We’ll help them with – in every way we can. We have no ego when it comes to this. No ego whatsoever,” Trump said.
Despite the growing tensions with China, Trump also responded affirmatively when asked whether he believes the US would have access to a Covid-19 vaccine if the Asian nation is the one that develops it.
“I would say the answer to that would be yes,” the president said.
The US remains the epicenter of the pandemic, with more than 1.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and around 87,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.
In addition to the high death toll, the country is facing a massive economic crisis resulting from coronavirus-triggered stay-at-home orders and mandatory closures of non-essential businesses.
This week, US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said of the economic crisis that it has “caused a level of pain that is hard to capture in words, as lives are upended amid great uncertainty about the future.”
First-quarter gross domestic product declined by 4.8 percent and the contraction in the second quarter is expected to be much worse. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, skyrocketed in April by 10.3 percentage points to 14.7 percent – its highest level since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
While Fauci cautioned in remarks to the Senate this week about the dangers of states reopening their economies prematurely, Trump said he is sticking with a plan for the safe and phased opening of the country that his administration outlined in guidelines issued to states a month ago.
“Our country has to get back to work again. And you see that, just looking and reading, everything that’s happening. Our people want to get back,” Trump said, though acknowledging that the elderly – especially those with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure – should continue to shelter in place.
More than half of the US states have begun to partially reopen their economies and gradually lift restrictions on individual mobility, although fear is still palpable among many citizens who believe the novel coronavirus is not yet under control.
In response to the economic devastation, the US Congress already has passed several stimulus bills totaling nearly $3 trillion.
And the Democratic-controlled lower house was prepared to vote Friday on another relief package that would provide aid to struggling state and local governments and also deliver a second round of $1,200 relief checks for ordinary Americans – or up to $6,000 per household.
Any bill that is approved, however, figures to face strong opposition in the GOP-controlled Senate.