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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Worries build over Trump's ability to manage a vaccination program

As Phase 3 studies begin for experimental vaccines

As Phase 3 studies begin for experimental vaccines for the coronavirus, discussions turn to how the government would roll out an immunization program if a candidate is approved. Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

When it comes to spearheading the management of a massive and complex federal project to beat back the coronavirus in real time, this White House inspires little confidence.

Last week, President Donald Trump sat for another news interview in which nobody could quite be sure what he was talking about.

"You know there are those that say you can test too much," Trump told Axios reporter Jonathan Swan. "You do know that?"

"Who says that?" Swan asked in an interview set to air Monday night on "Axios on HBO," according to Business Insider.

"Oh, just read the manuals," Trump said. "Read the books."

"Manuals?" Swan asked. "What manuals?"

"Read the books, read the books," the president repeated.

Distribution of COVID-19 tests and the timely return of their results continue to pose a problem both in states that are now considered hot spots and those where the spread has been suppressed.

As hopes increase for approval of a vaccine in the next few months, discussion is underway about how the government will distribute needed supplies and galvanize the public to accept the shots — especially when simple mask-wearing still is controversial in some Trump circles.

Health officials and lawmakers are warning that without thorough immunization planning and cooperation with states, the administration could oversee the kind of disruptions that led to shortages of coronavirus diagnostic tests, Reuters reports.

Trump aides have been talking about the White House coronavirus task force taking the lead on the eventual immunization rollout. But Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who heads a Senate panel on health funding, said "this is really the prime responsibility" of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC at times has been contradicted by the White House.

“They are the only federal agency with a proven track record of vaccine distribution and long-standing agreements with health departments across the country,” Blunt said earlier this month.

Dr. Anthony Fauci testified before a House committee on Friday that he is "cautiously optimistic" for a safe and effective vaccine by the “end of this year and as we go into 2021.” Distribution may have to be phased in, he said.

Topping the priority list could be critical workers, such as medical personnel, or vulnerable patients, such as older adults with underlying health problems. “But ultimately, within a reasonable period of time, the plans now allow for any American who needs a vaccine to get it within the year 2021,” said Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases official.

Earlier this year, a team working under presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner outlined a national virus response that for some reason was abandoned in favor of a piecemeal and chaotic approach that shifted the responsibility to states, as Vanity Fair describes.

Kushner's team carried out what the magazine describes as a secretive procurement of Chinese-made test kits through a United Arab Emirates company. The multimillion-dollar purchase reportedly ended up a fiasco.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Trump's handling of the pandemic, protests over policing and racial inequities and relations with Russia, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll released last week.

Looking ahead, educating some people about the necessity of getting vaccinated could prove challenging — if the president chooses, as he has before, to undermine or cloud the messages of scientific professionals. But we're not there yet.

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