By Julie Havlak
Carolina Journal News Service
RALEIGH – President Trump promised fast approval of a COVID-19 vaccine when he came to North Carolina to talk about the progress of a potential vaccine candidate.
Trump visited the Triangle on Monday, July 27, to see the production of a possible coronavirus vaccine at Japanese drug manufacturer Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies’ Innovation Center in Morrisville.
Fujifilm Diosynth is manufacturing the main component for the vaccine candidate in the Research Triangle Park for the biotech company Novavax. The potential vaccine aims to provoke an immune response using coronavirus proteins.
Novavax landed a $1.6 billion contract to produce a coronavirus vaccine. The Maryland company won the largest deal so far from Operation Warp Speed – the federal push to make 300 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine available to the public by January 2021. The federal government has invested nearly $4 billion to accelerate six potential vaccines.
“America will develop a vaccine very soon, we will defeat the virus, and in record time,” Trump said. “On the day … it’s approved, it’d be available to the American people immediately, and we’ll probably have a lot for other people throughout the world.”
This is Trump’s first visit to North Carolina since he pulled the Republican National Convention from Charlotte. After sparring with Gov. Roy Cooper over expected capacity restrictions, Trump moved most of the convention to Florida. He later canceled part of the RNC in Jacksonville, Florida.
The outcome of the national election and North Carolina’s state election will depend on how the public views Trump’s management of the coronavirus pandemic, says Andy Taylor, political science professor at N.C. State University.
Republican leaders Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and state House Speaker Tim Moore met Trump at the airport and toured the facility with him. Trump did not wear a mask when he left Air Force One or when he spoke at a news conference. But he did strongly urge people to wear masks, practice social distancing and practice good hygiene.
Novavax’s potential vaccine is already in the first phase of three clinical trials. The company hopes to move to Phase 2 study in August, and launch a Phase 3 trial in the fall. That last trial will test the vaccine on up to 30,000 subjects. Under the contract, the federal government will own 100 million doses of the potential vaccine.
The deal marks a major turning point for the company. Just a year ago, Novavax was near financial ruin. One of its major vaccine candidates failed twice in three years, and its stock was trading so low that it risked being taken off the NASDAQ electronic stock exchange, reported the New York Times.
In its 33 years of business, Novavax has never brought a vaccine to market, the Times reported.
But experts hope Novavax offers a faster way to manufacture coronavirus vaccines.
Novavax uses moth cells to create coronavirus proteins. This offers a much quicker way to churn out critical components of vaccines than the mammal cells used by normal vaccines.
The visit comes as North Carolina had 114,338 confirmed cases, 92,302 recoveries, 1,169 hospitalizations and 1,790 deaths on Monday, July 27.
Trump trails in most major polls. The Real Clear Politics polling average showed Trump lagging Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden by 9.3 points Monday. The president has fewer than 100 days left to form public opinion before the elections. That leaves little time to develop a vaccine and still less to distribute it to the public.
“I don’t know what kind of practical effect it would have in such a short time,” Taylor told Carolina Journal. “It would be a game-changer for the country and the world, but it might be too late to be a meaningful game-changer for the elections.”
Hundreds of Trump supporters and opponents lined Davis Drive before Air Force One landed at RDU International Airport.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper did not attend. Cooper said he wasn’t invited, ABC11.com reported.
“The relationship with the governors has been very good,” Trump said. “We are working with every governor.”
Trump said he didn’t believe the economic recovery was in danger, and said “a lot of governors” should reopen states that remain closed. He highlighted progress in developing vaccines and therapeutics.
“As COVID-19 cases in North Carolina continue to rise, North Carolinians deserve better than the inaction we have seen from President Trump and his administration,” Biden said in a statement. “The magnitude of this crisis was preventable. Yet Donald Trump has failed to take accountability for his shameful response and instead placed blame on everyone but his own administration.”