President Donald Trump on Monday asked pharmaceutical companies to accelerate development of vaccines for the new coronavirus.
Trump, speaking in Washington, will meet with executives from the companies later on Monday at the White House along with members of his Coronavirus Task Force.
The discussion will center around a vaccine or a cure for the new virus, which causes a disease called COVID-19. Twenty-three new cases were reported in the United States over the weekend, including the first two deaths from the new disease.
“We’ve asked them to accelerate whatever they’re doing in terms of a vaccine,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.
The meeting was prescheduled and originally intended to be about drug prices, the president said. His administration, he said, has brought drug prices down for the first time in 51 years.
Trump and other top officials told Americans on Saturday that the risk to the American public from the new virus remains low. “The American public needs to go on with their normal lives,” Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said.
“Healthy individuals are likely to recover,” Trump said.
Federal officials and some companies are working on creating vaccines for the virus, with several in development. Trials for a vaccine are expected to start in about six weeks, a top official said on Feb. 25. Moderna, a U.S.-based company, sent the first batch of an experimental vaccine earlier that day.
Development of a vaccine takes time, with a phase one trial of around three months followed by a wider phase two trial of at least six months.
If a vaccine passes the trials, it takes additional time to scale up for major distribution.
Testing is also being done in other countries on possible vaccines, including in Australia.
Clinical trials are being done on potential therapeutics, or treatments, for the virus, drawing from existing medicines. A top candidate is Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir, which is being tested in the United States, Japan, and China.
World Health Organization (WHO) officials told reporters in Geneva on Monday that containment of the virus is still the focus, with the hope of breaking chains of transmission.
Even if transmission isn’t ultimately avoided, the strategy lets countries train workers, obtain more equipment, and otherwise prepare for spread of the virus, Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s director of emergencies program, said.
“At the very least, by doing that we give all the health systems in the world a chance to prepare and, potentially, develop therapeutics and vaccines to prevent it. This is about containment and buying time, and in doing that we can save a lot of lives.”
Other efforts revolve around studying the virus and the COVID-19 disease, and trying to figure out how exactly it behaves, Ryan said. Questions remain around its transmission and case fatalities, as well as its origins.
“It’s not influenza and it’s not behaving like influenza. It is behaving like COVID-19. The problem is, we don’t know exactly how COVID-19 behaves,” he said.
The fact that it’s transmitting differently than the flu offers a “chink of light” that the virus can be contained, Ryan said.