President Donald Trump said Friday that the initial delivery of COVID-19 vaccines could begin to states -- with the exception of New York -- next month, once final approvals are given by the Food and Drug Administration.
Army Gen. Gus Perna, in charge of distribution for Operation Warp Speed, the interagency organization set up to speed the development of vaccines and therapeutics, said his public and private teams are ready to deliver the vaccines "within 24 hours" of FDA approval, with the first doses going to the elderly and front-line workers.
"We're ready to execute," he said.
Trump also said he does not expect any federal action to impose lockdowns in response to a surge in coronavirus cases nationwide. As of noon Friday, the number of U.S. COVID -19 cases passed 10.6 million, with more than 243,000 deaths reported, according to several tracking organizations.
"Ideally, we won't go to a lockdown," Trump said at the White House in his first update on the pandemic since the election. "I will not go, this administration will not be going to a lockdown."
He then appeared to hint that he might not be president next year, although he has refused to concede and charged that the election was stolen from him through voter fraud.
"Hopefully, the, the, whatever happens in the future -- who knows which administration it will be -- I guess time will tell. But I can tell you, this administration will not go to a lockdown. There won't be necessity," he said.
Trump added that he expects the FDA to give emergency use authorization (EUA) in the coming weeks to a promising vaccine developed by Pfizer, with delivery to the states possibly beginning in mid-December. But he excluded New York.
He charged that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo "decided to say, and I don't think it's good from a political standpoint, but he wants to take his time with the vaccine."
"We won't be delivering it to New York until we have authorization to do so, and that pains me to say that. This is a very successful, amazing vaccine," Trump said. The vaccine has an efficacy rate of about 90% in testing, according to Pfizer.
On Monday, Moderna announced its own vaccine under development is 94.5% effective, making it the second vaccine to show excellent success rates.
Cuomo immediately pushed back, saying New Yorkers have doubts about the vaccine because they don't trust Trump.
"I am not confident in the competence of this federal administration," Cuomo said, adding that his own state review would be simultaneous with the FDA's for approval of the vaccine and "there won't be any lag time" on deliveries.
"I will be ready to administer it" once approval of its safety and efficacy is given, he said.
Trump was joined at the White House by Perna; Vice President Mike Pence; Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar; and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed.
They did not take questions and only Pence made brief remarks in which he addressed the current surge in COVID-19 cases and repeated Centers of Disease Control and Prevention guidance to wash hands, wear a face mask and maintain social distancing.
Trump said he expects the surge in new cases to begin to wane and repeated his claim that the U.S. has more cases than many other countries because it does more testing.
"I think we can say that significant progress has been made [on developing a vaccine] and, while we're not there yet, we're close," Slaoui said.
If FDA approval comes, Slaoui said about 20 million doses could be ready for distribution in December, with deliveries escalating in the following months.
In a statement Friday, former Vice President Joe Biden, who appears to have amassed an insurmountable lead in the vote count, pending challenges by the Trump campaign, called for action now to stem the spike in coronavirus cases.
"This crisis demands a robust and immediate federal response, which has been woefully lacking," he said. "Urgent action is needed today, now, by the current administration -- starting with an acknowledgment of how serious the current situation is."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.