FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn won’t confirm Trump’s promises on vaccine timing

Hahn appeared on "This Week" and discussed the status of a COVID-19 vaccine.

July 5, 2020, 12:03 PM

Despite President Donald Trump's claims that a COVID-19 "solution" would likely be available "long before the end of the year," a member of the White House coronavirus task force, who leads the agency in charge of approving a vaccine, refused Sunday to offer a timeline for its final development.

"I can't predict when a vaccine will be available," Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday, adding, "Yes, we are seeing unprecedented speed for the development of a vaccine. But … our solemn promise to the American people is that we will make a decision based upon the data and science on a vaccine, with respect to the safety and effectiveness of that vaccine."

During a Fourth of July address in Washington on Saturday, Trump struck a more optimistic tone, both on the speed of virus treatment research and development, and on the impact COVID-19 is having upon individuals who test positive.

"We are unleashing our nation's scientific brilliance and we'll likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year," Trump said, after earlier touting the nation's testing efforts and claiming, without evidence, that "99%" of coronavirus cases "are totally harmless."

PHOTO: Commissioner of Food and Drugs Stephen Hahn speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, April 24, 2020.
Commissioner of Food and Drugs Stephen Hahn speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, April 24, 2020.
Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Hahn was challenged about the latter assertion by "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz, but refused to join the president in his characterization.

"We have more than 129,000 dead and more than 2.8 million cases, how many cases would you say are harmless?" Raddatz asked.

"What I'd say is, you know, any case, we don't want to have in this country," the commissioner said. "Any death, any case is tragic, and we want to do everything we can to prevent that."

Hahn, a trained radiation and medical oncologist who became FDA commissioner in December 2019, said Thursday that he was "cautiously optimistic" about current efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine, pointing to either "year's end or early next year" as potential completion dates.

Some hesitation among Americans to get a coronavirus shot makes it unclear how much a vaccine would do to halt the pandemic's continued spread. In June, an ABC News poll found that 27% of adults said they would either "definitely" or "probably" not get a vaccine -- a number which Raddatz asked Hahn about on Sunday.

"It is a sizable number and it is concerning and, of course, the issue of vaccines in this country has been around for a number of years," he said, while explaining that the FDA was focused on the "safety" and "efficacy" of a vaccine. "I want to assure the American people that and provide confidence that we're on the job."

COVID-19 cases in the United States continued to surge during the past week, with large states including Arizona, Florida and Texas struggling to contain recent outbreaks.

Local leaders from each of those states also appeared on "This Week" Sunday, and detailed some of the struggles their communities are facing as cases grow and hospitals become overwhelmed.

"What we're seeing is that wishful thinking is neither good economic policy nor good public health policy," said Judge Lina Hidalgo, who serves as the chief executive of Harris County, Texas -- the most populous county in the state, which includes the city of Houston.

Hidalgo lamented that she was stripped of her ability to issue a stay-at-home order by the state government earlier in the year and criticized the delay by Gov. Greg Abbott in instituting face mask requirements.

"As long as we're doing as little as possible, and hoping for the best, we're always going to be chasing this thing," Hidalgo said. "We're always going to be behind."

Mayors Kate Gallego and Francis Suarez of Phoenix and Miami shared similar sentiments, and drew links between reopening efforts and the increase in cases in their regions.

"There's no doubt that ... when we reopened, people started socializing, as if the virus didn't exist," Suarez said.

"We opened way too early in Arizona," Gallego said. "We were one of the last states to go to stay-at-home and one of the first to reemerge ... I am trying to push people that you need to stay home, and that events with more than 10 people are dangerous."

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