WASHINGTON - President Trump announced a new coronavirus vaccine plan Friday, introducing the two men who will head up the effort to develop and distribute a vaccine when it becomes available.
Army Gen. Gustave Perna, the commander of United States Army Materiel Command, will head the effort along with Moncef Slaoui, the former chief of vaccines at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.
"It's called Operation Warp Speed. That means big and it means fast," said President Trump.
Slaoui resigned from the board of Moderna, which is one of the companies working on a vaccine, amidst questions over financial conflicts of interest.
He says data from at least one vaccine trial is promising.
"These data made me feel even more confident that we will be able to deliver a few hundred million doses of vaccine by the end of 2020," said Slaoui.
The National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins says trials are on a fast-track.
"I think we will see as soon as July the large scale trials beginning to get underway," said Dr. Collins, "We would try to have 10 million doses of an effective vaccine or maybe a couple of different ones by October."
Federal health officials and Slaoui will be trying to identify the best vaccine options to ramp up production by January. There is some risk of wasting millions, if the vaccines selected end up not being effective.
Worldwide, about a dozen vaccine candidates are in the first stages of testing or poised to begin. Among those getting the most attention are one created by the NIH and Moderna Inc., and a different type created by Britain's Oxford University.
For those next-step studies, NIH is working with some of the world's largest pharmaceutical firms to create a master plan so each potential vaccine is tested the same way, using the same database, instead of each company devising its own methods. That partnership -- called ACTIV or Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines -- is like an umbrella where vaccine makers can sign on when they're ready to start enrolling.
Some health experts are concerned, though, about the tight time-frame.
"You cannot skip safety. Absolutely cannot skip safety. safety is the most important thing," said Dr. Rashid Chotani, an epidemiology expert.
Dr. Chotani says vaccines typically take 12-18 months before approval for good reason.
According to the CDC, a new vaccine must go through three phases of clinical trials in order to get FDA approval and to test for safety and side effects.
"There are vaccines that have caused some serious adverse effects and that causes a huge problem in terms of the trust in the vaccine for the population," said Dr. Chotani.
There is also the problem of how to manufacture and distribute vaccines for the entire U.S. population of more than 300 million Americans.
"The logistics of distributing the vaccine are equally challenging," said Dr. Chris Farnitano, the Contra Costa County Health Officer.
Dr. Farnitano says counties will need to quickly add vaccine distribution sites to supplement regular clinics and hospitals.
That means possibly converting COVID-19 testing tents into vaccine sites, a
nd adding vaccine distribution at local pharmacies, shopping center parking lots, libraries, and even firehouses for firefighters to help administer the thousands of shots.
There's the cost of staffing, refrigeration, and the vaccine itself.
"It really will be important that cost is not a barrier," said Dr. Farnitano, "We would really hope the federal government will be able to step up and help cover some of those costs because it is really going to be expensive."
Dr. Farnitano says under the Affordable Care Act most vaccines are free, but people with no health insurance will likely need help to cover the costs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.