Vice President Pence “wouldn’t hesitate” to get a COVID-19 vaccine once it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and said the administration will be urging Americans to get flu shots as public health experts warn of the potential dangers of flu season coinciding with the coronavirus pandemic.
Pence told The Hill in an exclusive interview that the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working to develop a comprehensive plan for the distribution of a vaccine, with seniors, first responders, health care workers and those with immunodeficiencies likely to be prioritized.
“So we’ll deploy the resources, but the very moment that it’s appropriate for somebody in my category to get a vaccine, you better believe it. I, and my family, wouldn’t hesitate,” Pence said of taking a vaccine.
The Trump administration has touted Operation Warp Speed, a government initiative intended to reduce the time it takes to produce a vaccine for COVID-19. The virus has so far killed nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. and infected millions of Americans.
The program is intended to expedite the manufacturing process so that millions of doses of a potential vaccine are ready for distribution as soon as it receives approval from health agencies.
But President Trump’s ambitious pledges that a vaccine will be approved in a matter of weeks and before Election Day have drawn criticism from Democrats and some health officials who worry he is politicizing public health matters and undermining confidence in an eventual vaccine.
“I’m worried if we did have a really good vaccine people would be reluctant to take it. So, [Trump] is undermining public confidence,” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden told reporters last week. “But pray God we have it. If I could get a vaccine tomorrow, I’d do it. If it cost me the election I would do it. We need a vaccine and we need it now. We have to listen to the scientists.”
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said last week that it’s “unlikely” a vaccine will be ready by Election Day. He has signaled that it is likely an effective vaccine will be approved by the end of the calendar year.
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn has said he is willing to fast-track a vaccine if appropriate, but that he will not let politics influence his decisions.
In addition to a potential COVID-19 vaccine, Pence said the administration will be urging the public to get vaccinated for influenza as well.
Public health officials have expressed concerns about a possible surge in COVID-19 infections in the fall and winter months, and the health system will be further stressed by the rise in seasonal flu cases.
CDC Director Robert Redfield said in April he was concerned that a winter resurgence “will actually be more difficult than the one we just went through.”
Pence, who is the head of the White House coronavirus task force, said the government is preparing for the challenge of a combined flu season and pandemic by continuing to expand point of care tests that give rapid results and adding ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) to the national stockpile.
Asked if the Trump administration would continue on with those measures even if Democrats won the White House in November, Pence would not entertain the possibility of a Biden victory.
“Number one, Joe Biden’s not going to win,” he told The Hill. “But I will tell you we are continuing to expand testing rapidly, dramatically.”
“Make no mistake about it, we’re going to be encouraging Americans to get flu vaccines as we go into the flu season, and the moment that a vaccine for coronavirus becomes available have that as well,” he added. “But, we’re just continuing to build capacity as we speak in testing, in PPE, in therapeutics, and ultimately pursuing a vaccine.”