NATIONWIDE — President Trump’s administration will not participate in international efforts to create a coronavirus vaccine because of the World Health Organization’s involvement in the project, the White House confirmed Tuesday.
Over 170 countries including Japan, Germany and Australia have joined the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility initiative, or COVAX. The alliance aims to “provide countries worldwide equitable access to safe and effective vaccines, once they are licensed and approved,” according to its website.
“The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus, but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China," White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement Tuesday. "This president will spare no expense to ensure that any new vaccine maintains our own Food and Drug Administration's gold standard for safety and efficacy, is thoroughly tested and saves lives.”
The Trump administration formally notified the United Nations of its withdrawal from the World Health Organization in July, although the pullout won’t take effect until next year, meaning it could be rescinded under a new administration or if circumstances change. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, said he would reverse the decision on his first day in office if elected.
The withdrawal notification makes good on President Donald Trump’s vow in late May to terminate U.S. participation in the WHO, which he has harshly criticized for its response to the coronavirus pandemic and accused of bowing to Chinese influence.
Instead, the United States is doubling down on Operation Warp Speed, a national effort led by the Department of Health and Human Services that aims to “produce and deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines” by January 2021.
At least three potential vaccines are in Phase 3 trials in the United States, the most recent of which came from the global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“NIH is committed to supporting several Phase 3 vaccine trials to increase the odds that one or more will be effective in preventing COVID-19 and put us on the road to recovery from this devastating pandemic,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins in a statement. “We also know that preventing this disease could require multiple vaccines and we’re investing in those that we believe have the greatest potential for success.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, thinks the United States’ trial vaccines show promise — and may even turn into an effective treatment before the end of the year.
"I believe that by the time we get to the end of this calendar year that we will feel comfortable that we do have a safe and effective vaccine," Fauci told NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday.
Still, the doctor said he would not support pushing out a vaccine that had not been rigorously tested.
“If you are making a decision about the vaccine, you’d better be sure you have very good evidence that it is both safe and effective,” Fauci said. “I’m not concerned about political pressure.”
But some experts aren’t as optimistic as Fauci, and say the best bet for achieving an effective treatment would be to join the WHO’s efforts.
Dr. Eric Fiegl-Ding, a public health scientist and visiting scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, called the decision not to participate in COVAX “absolutely terrible.”
“TERRIBLE—Trump says US won’t join a global effort to develop, manufacture and equitably distribute a coronavirus vaccine,” Feigl-Ding wrote in a tweet. “Absolutely terrible. It will hurt us in the long run because this is a pandemic that affects the world damnit. #COVID19.”
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., echoed Feigl-Ding’s statements in her own tweet, saying Trump’s decision was the “exact opposite of America first.”