U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday hailed developments in the race for a COVID-19 vaccine as he delivered his first public remarks since his defeat by president-elect Joe Biden, even as he refuses to concede the election.
Trump spoke from the Rose Garden as the nation sets records for confirmed cases of COVID-19, and as hospitalizations near critical levels and fatalities climb to the highest levels since the spring.
He said a vaccine would ship in “a matter of weeks” to vulnerable populations, though the Food and Drug Administration has not yet been asked to grant the necessary emergency approvals. In addition, there’s no information yet as to whether the vaccine worked in vulnerable populations or only in younger, healthier study volunteers.
Trump, aiming to settle political scores, said he would not ship vaccines to hard-hit New York until Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs off, noting that the state has promised to do its own review to ensure their safety.
“The governor will let us know when he’s ready,” Trump said.
WATCH | Trump singles out New York Gov. Cuomo:
U.S. President Donald Trump said a vaccine will be available for the country’s entire population by April, but claimed it won’t be delivered to New York state because Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to take his time authorizing it ‘for political reasons’ and because he ‘doesn’t trust’ the Trump administration. 1:27
Public health experts worry that Trump’s refusal to take aggressive action on the pandemic or to co-ordinate with the Biden team during the final two months of his presidency will only worsen the effects of the virus and hinder the nation’s ability to swiftly distribute a vaccine next year.
And as cases reach new heights, Trump’s campaign prediction that the U.S. was “rounding the turn” on the pandemic has met a harsh reality, with his own White House becoming the focus of yet another outbreak.
Trump’s aggressive travel despite the virus has taken its toll on his protectors as well.
The U.S. Secret Service is experiencing a significant number of cases, many believed to be linked to his rallies in the closing days of the campaign, according to one official.
Trump administration ‘will not go to a lockdown’
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, meanwhile, said Trump is “not even at that point yet” when it comes to conceding to Biden.
Trump has levelled baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud, even as his own administration has said there is no evidence to support the claims.
His aides suggest he is merely trying to keep his base of supporters on his side in defeat.
A health workers is seen at a curbside COVID-19 testing site in Muskegon Heights, Mich., on Friday. (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)
At Friday’s news conference, Trump said he refuses to have another lockdown but suggested one could be in the offing should he lose his legal challenges to overcome his election loss to Biden.
“This administration will not be going to a lockdown,” he said.
“Hopefully 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.”
WATCH | Trump makes closest nod so far to U.S. election result:
President Donald Trump made his closest acknowledgement of the U.S. election result Friday during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden, saying his administration would not initiate a lockdown in the future. He then added: “Who knows which administration it will be. I guess time will tell.” 0:54
With more than 100,000 new confirmed U.S. cases reported daily for more than a week, Trump has been more focused on tracking the rollout of a vaccine, which won’t be widely available for months.
He has fumed that Pfizer intentionally withheld an announcement about progress on its vaccine trial until after Election Day, according to a White House official who was not authorized to publicly comment and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Pfizer said it did not purposely withhold trial results.
Transition delays ‘a big problem’
Although the president has consistently played down the pandemic, which has killed more than 240,000 Americans and infected more than 10 million people in the U.S., public health experts expressed worry about Trump’s silence on the troubling spike in cases, as well as his refusal to begin co-ordination on virus issues with Biden’s transition team.
“It’s a big problem,” said Dr. Abraar Karan, a global health specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
“The transition is not going to happen until January, and we are in a complete crisis right now. We already know where this is headed. … It’s not good enough to say we’re going to wait until the next president to address this.”
WATCH | Presidential transition distracts from critical COVID-19 spikes across the U.S.:
How the battle over the transition from Trump to Biden is distracting from the fight against COVID-19, as case numbers explode in several states. 2:07
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows tested positive last week after attending an election night party at the White House.
Others at the party also have tested positive, including White House political director Brian Jack, former White House aide Healy Baumgardner and Trump campaign advisers David Bossie and Corey Lewandowski. Lewandowski said Thursday that he believes he contracted the virus in Philadelphia while assisting the president’s election challenge there.
Biden, for his part, largely framed the election as a referendum on Trump’s handling of the pandemic. He has made addressing the virus his top priority as he moves forward with his transition.
WATCH | Biden lays out plan to fight COVID-19 pandemic:
U.S. president-elect Joe Biden has laid out his plans for tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, urging people to wear masks, and naming his coronavirus task force. 2:09
He spoke by phone Thursday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about the intensifying pandemic and prospects for passage of a COVID-19 relief bill in the lame duck session of Congress.
Incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Biden will appoint a “COVID co-ordinator” who will lead the administration’s pandemic response.
Klain, speaking on MSNBC Thursday night, said the individual will have “direct access” to the president and will brief him daily on the pandemic. A team of people under the co-ordinator will supervise vaccine distribution, address supply chain disruptions and improve access to testing.