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

Mark Esper said the Department of Defense "will deliver" a vaccine to combat coronavirus by the end of 2020.
/ Source: TODAY

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on TODAY Friday that a coronavirus vaccine to treat Americans is "absolutely" possible by the end of the year.

Esper expanded on his comments from a White House press conference in which he said the Department of Defense "will deliver" a vaccine by the end of the year for an illness that has so far infected more than 1.5 million Americans and caused 94,729 deaths in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University.

"Absolutely it's possible, and I've spoken to our medical experts about this," Esper told Savannah Guthrie. "We are completely confident that we can get this done.

"Look, the Defense Department has been on top of the coronavirus since the early days. We were in this fight from late January on, when we were first bringing Americans back from China. We've been ahead of the curve and in the fight from day one, and this is the next phase of this battle, and we will deliver on time the vaccines."

Experts have predicted that a vaccine could take a least 12-18 months to produce from the beginning of the widespread outbreak in March.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on TODAY in April that it's not out of the question that the United States could have a viable coronavirus vaccine by January of 2021, calling it "doable."

Oxford University also announced Friday that an experimental vaccine it has been developing will now progress to advanced stages of human trials, where it will be tested in 10,260 volunteers across the United Kingdom to determine its effectiveness.

The vaccine could be on the market as early as September if the trials are successful, according to drugmaker AstraZeneca, which has partnered with Oxford University.

Senior officials also told NBC News in early May that there are 14 potential coronavirus vaccines under development as part of a program led by President Donald Trump's administration to fast-track one for use as early as January.

Esper said on Friday that researchers have been working on a vaccine for months.

"I'm confident we'll get it,'' he said. "DoD has the expertise and the capability of course to get the manufacturing done and the logistics, and I'm confident that we will deliver."

The secretary also addressed concerns by many health experts over a second wave of coronavirus sweeping the country now that a majority of states have reopened after months of lockdown.

"We're looking at a variety of alternative futures, if you will,'' he said. "A second wave is a possibility. I don't think the coronavirus is going away any time soon, at least not until we have a vaccine or a cure. We have to make sure we understand what that path may look like ahead and make sure we again adapt ourselves so we continue to maintain our three priorities.

"No. 1, protect our people. That's our service members, our Department of Defense civilians, and their families. No. 2, ensure we can maintain our national security mission capabilities, then No. 3, provide full support to the whole nation response to the coronavirus."