Experts cast doubts on U.S. vaccine claim

May 19, 2020


As President Donald Trump said the United States started to develop a candidate for the first COVID-19 vaccine on Jan 11, experts questioned the administration's handling of the crisis even though it had early knowledge of the impending pandemic.


At a news briefing on Friday, Trump said U.S. scientists could develop a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this year and that the first actions in the U.S. on a vaccine began on Jan 11.


"So, January 11th. Most people never even heard what was going on January 11th. And we were out there trying to develop a vaccine, not even knowing what we were up against."


The date has aroused skepticism among experts because it was not until more than two months later, on March 15, that Trump declared the novel coronavirus pandemic to be a national emergency. The next day his government issued guidelines calling on the public to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people and to limit discretionary travel in an effort to contain the virus. The guidelines were to be in place for 15 days.


Long Xingchun, an adjunct senior fellow at Beijing Foreign Studies University's Academy of Regional and Global Governance, said Trump's remarks cast doubt on whether U.S. politicians had paid enough attention to the virus and whether the anti-epidemic measures the administration had adopted were timely.


China had issued a clear and detailed timeline for its handling of the outbreak, Long said.


"China notified the World Health Organization of the genetic sequence of the virus on Jan 12. According to Trump's remarks, health experts in the U.S. began work on the vaccine in a early phase, yet some U.S. politicians' response to the virus were still disappointing."


Given that the U.S. government has claimed it has the world's most developed medical system and best scientific research, it should rethink its policy responses when a public health emergency such as COVID-19 arises, said Jia Jinjing, assistant dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at the Renmin University of China in Beijing.


"To cope with such crises governments need quick responses and flexible policy adjustment based on people's needs. U.S. politicians need to rethink whether their public health system can cope with such a crisis."


It took only 50 days for the number of U.S. COVID-19 cases in the U.S. to grow from one to 1,000, and only eight days for the number to surpass 10,000 from March 11 to March 19, according to the Johns Hopkins University.


A week later, on March 27, the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. had surpassed 100,000, and confirmed cases in the country now exceed 1,443,000. The number of reported deaths was nearing 89,000 on Sunday, both figures being the worst in the world.


Cases in December


Media reports said two residents of Snohomish county, Washington, had tested positive for antibodies against the novel coronavirus after developing symptoms similar to COVID-19 in December, several weeks before the country's first confirmed case in mid-January.


One of the residents reportedly developed symptoms, including dry cough, fever and body aches, shortly after Christmas, and improved after seeking medical help. The patient recently learned from her family doctor that her blood test had shown positive for novel coronavirus antibodies, The Seattle Times reported.


Antibody test cannot tell when the patient was exposed to the virus, but the two patients' test results, combined with their symptoms in December, appeared to meet the definition of COVID-19 provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


"They are being considered 'probable,'" Heather Thomas, a Snohomish Health District spokeswoman, said in an e-mail to The Seattle Times on Thursday, adding that the two patients are not in the case counts from January 20 and later.


Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, has said he is unsure whether the U.S. will join an initiative for equal access to drugs and vaccines for COVID-19.


He made the remarks in a virtual media conference from Geneva when he was joined by Costa Rica's President Carlos Alvarado Quesada and Chile's President Sebastian Pinera in a prelaunch of a new worldwide access initiative for COVID-19 health technologies, including vaccines, medicines and other solutions.


Relations between the WHO and the U.S. have soured after Trump accused the global health body of mismanaging the pandemic and for being "China-centric". Trump has also ordered U.S. funding to the WHO to be halted. The moves have been widely viewed as a way of deflecting attention from the U.S. government's poor handling of the pandemic at home.

Xinhua and Agencies contributed to this story.