Defense Secretary Esper says coronavirus vaccine 'absolutely' possible by end of 2020

'We are completely confident we can get this done,' Esper said

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Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday doubled down on his statement that a coronavirus vaccine could be developed and distributed at scale by the end of 2020.

"Absolutely it's possible," Esper said during an interview on the "Today" show. "I've spoken to our medical experts about it, we are completely confident we can get this done."

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"We will deliver on-time the vaccines," he added.

President Trump unveiled an ambitious $10 billion program last week to develop, produce and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year, with the goal of making "at least" 300 million doses to administer to Americans.

"We will deliver, by the end of this year, a vaccine at scale to treat the American people and our partners abroad," Esper said during the White House event last week in the Rose Garden.

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The National Institutes of Health has said that one or two possible vaccine candidates could be ready for large-scale testing by July, with several other likely to follow. But the NIH director, Francis Collins, cautioned that a successful vaccine by January is a "very bold plan...a stretch goal if there ever was one."

Globally, there are about a dozen vaccine candidates in the first stages of testing or about to begin. Some of the notable ones that have garnered attention in recent weeks include those created by biotech company Moderna and a different one from Oxford University.

Collins told the Associated Press during an interview that the current tests are "looking pretty good," but noted that "until you put it into the real world and check it out you don’t really know. You can’t skip over that really, really hard part of testing this in thousands and thousands of people.”

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The tests are necessary to determine the correct dosage and ensure there are no negative side effects.

The U.S. has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world, totaling nearly 1.6 million. As of Friday morning, the virus had killed 94,729 individuals in the nation, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

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