BY: BEN GITTLESON AND JOHN PARKINSON, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order on Tuesday that would prioritize Americans’ access to COVID-19 vaccines before the United States helps other countries, multiple White House officials said during a background briefing Monday evening.
Trump is expected to discuss the order at a “COVID-19 Vaccine Summit” he is holding at the White House on Tuesday, according to the officials, two days before advisers to the Food and Drug Administration hold a public meeting Thursday to assess the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use authorization.
While it’s not entirely clear on how exactly the executive order would work, the move is designed to prevent the U.S. government from shipping any doses it has purchased to aid any foreign countries until all needs are met within the United States.
Beyond the executive order, the event will allow Trump to again call attention to the success of the effort he says he named “Operation Warp Speed” in May.
Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, several governors, and executives from the private sector plan to participate in the meeting, White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern told ABC News last week.
“The key purposes of this summit … is educating the American public about the vaccine development process and how extensive it is as well as the vaccine distribution process and how we will reach every zip code in America very quickly as soon as a vaccine is approved by the FDA,” one senior White House official said.
The official added that the summit is intended to “instill confidence in both of those processes so that Americans know that the vaccine is safe and so that they know that every community is being considered very thoroughly in how we get this out.”
“It’s really the most spectacular mobilization since World War II,” the official boasted. “To get a vaccine to market much, much faster than has ever been done before.”
No one from the Biden transition team was invited, according to a Biden transition official.
Two leading developers of a COVID-19 vaccine, Moderna and Pfizer, were initially involved in discussions with the White House to participate in the summit, but White House officials asserted that the administration decided not to include them once Peter Marks, the director of the Center for Biologics at the FDA, confirmed he would participate in the event.
“There was a change of direction in light of the fact that we would have the regulator participating in the event,” one senior White House official told reporters. “It was more appropriate not to have one or more vaccine companies with pending applications before the FDA also participating in that event.”
White House officials also denied a report that the administration turned down an offer last summer to purchase an additional 400 million doses of the vaccine from Pfizer.
“I’ll tell you that’s false,” one senior White House official claimed, adding the administration was not willing to buy more vaccine doses without making sure it was authorized first. “I’ll also tell you we’re in the middle of negotiations right now, and we can’t talk publicly about it but we feel absolutely confident we will get the vaccine doses for which we’ve contracted, and we’ll have sufficient number of doses to vaccinate all Americans who desire one before the end of the second quarter of 2021.”
In a statement to ABC News, Pfizer said the company “is not able to comment on any confidential discussions that may be taking place with the U.S. government,” but pledged to make the vaccine available “as quickly, efficiently, and equitably as possible.”
“The U.S. government placed an initial order of 100 million doses for Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, and Pfizer is ready to begin shipping initial doses soon after receiving an Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA,” a representative from Pfizer stated. “Any additional doses beyond the 100 million are subject to a separate and mutually-acceptable agreement.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is also not expected to join the summit.
“I’m not going to be able to be there for reasons that we have something here at the NIH,” Fauci told CNN on Monday morning. “But obviously, I’m a player, as it were, since our institute was very much involved in the development of a vaccine. So what you’re going to be seeing is the rolling out of what is a very successful effort.”
A White House official confirmed Fauci was “invited” but cited a “scheduling conflict.”
“He is a leading voice on this issue and a trusted voice on vaccine confidence, so he would have liked to participate and we would have welcomed participation, but due to an important scheduling issue, he just couldn’t make it, unfortunately,” one of the White House officials said.
Three Republican governors are scheduled to participate in the summit, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, as well as Louisiana Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards according to the White House.
“He’ll be sharing information on Tennessee’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan, similar to what was discussed at last Thursday’s Operation Warp Speed roundtable in Memphis with Vice President Pence, Secretary Azar, and Director Redfield,” Lee spokesman Gillum Ferguson told ABC News.
Asked whether President Trump is considering receiving the vaccine on live television, a White House official said that is “certainly something that is under consideration,” but added that since the president has already had COVID-19 and recovered, he is “not a high priority for receiving the vaccine.”
ABC News’ Katherine Faulders, Eric Strauss, and Jim Ryan contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.