Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Wednesday that a vaccine for COVID-19 must be developed and distributed free of political pressure.
Biden warned that the University of Washington projects the nearly 200,000 American deaths so far could double by the end of the year if no additional action is taken. But he accused President Donald Trump of "feckless inaction" and said scientists must make the decisions about when a vaccine is safe and how it should be distributed.
“I trust vaccines. I trust scientists," Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware. "But I don’t trust Donald Trump and at this moment the American people can’t either."
Biden said development of a vaccine won't follow a political calendar, despite Trump's assurances that a vaccine will be completed within weeks.
"We’re heading into a very dangerous autumn," Biden said.
Experts say a vaccine might not be widely available until 2021. Biden said he would listen to medical experts, but that he would be inclined to distribute initially to first responders, doctors and nurses. Biden said he would then distribute to populations at greatest risk, such as the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions.
“It would be based upon the degree of exposure," Biden said. "It's got to be based on who is most vulnerable," rather than people with the thickest wallet.
More than 6.6 million Americans have become infected with the virus and nearly 200,000 have died, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University. The University of Washington projected another 215,000 people could die between now and the end of the year because the virus is expected to spike in December, but that figure could be cut in half if everyone wore masks, Biden said.
“We need leadership right now," Biden said.
Trump's approval for his handling of COVID-19 lands at 35%, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday, compared to 65% who disapprove. The result marked the fourth straight poll with similar results since early July.
Biden has campaigned largely from home and ventured out to events where participants wear masks and practice social distancing as he advocates for more spending on protective equipment and training for teachers as a "national emergency" so schools can reopen safely.
Biden urged governors in mid-August to impose mandatory mask-wearing orders for people outdoors for three months to corral the virus. Biden blasted Trump on Sept. 9, after revelations in Bob Woodward’s book “Rage,” that the president “willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months.”
In contrast, Trump has advocated reopening the economy and praised the resumption of Big Ten college football. He campaigns at rallies where many participants don't wear masks or stay apart. Trump has ridiculed Biden for wearing a mask and attacked him for suggesting a nationwide mask mandate.
Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, told reporters Wednesday that the administration worked early in the pandemic to provide enough hospital capacity and ventilators as needed while developing treatments. But Meadows said the virus will remain a threat until enough of the population has become immune to prevent widespread outbreaks.
“It's why we continue to work in rapid speed for vaccines,” Meadows said. "We have a real hope of getting something that actually works. And that the efficacy of that actually saves a lot of save lives. Whether that happens in two weeks. Whether it happens in two months, I can tell you there's one person that sits in an Oval Office that daily is asking me how much progress have we made? Where are we going?”
Biden gave his speech after a virtual briefing with health experts. Biden sat alone at a table at The Queen, a theater, while experts were shown by video feed on a large screen. The seven experts included Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former surgeon general; Dr. David Kessler, former head of the Food and Drug Administration and now director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest; and Dr. Zeke Emanuel, head of the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania.
Biden will back up his vaccine proposals with $65 million in advertising this week in battleground states on television, radio, digital and print.
One ad targeted for Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin tells the story of a Texas boy with leukemia whose family fears the cost of his treatment if Trump succeeds in repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Another ad targeted for Arizona, Florida and Nevada shares an Arizona family’s concerns about their healthcare costs for the father’s heart condition rising if Obamacare’s requirement to insure people with pre-existing conditions is eliminated.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Joe Biden vows to keep politics away from COVID-19 vaccine