White House official talks COVID-19 vaccine availability, S.C. restriction changes

VIDEO: White House official talks COVID-19 vaccine availability, S.C. restriction changes

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - White House Deputy Chief of Staff Dr. John Fleming said Friday that a COVID-19 vaccine may not become widely available until the end of 2021.

Fleming, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said there are at least three vaccine candidates who are in their final phase of testing.

“We can expect a safe and effective vaccine by the end of the year," Fleming said. “It may be end of 2021 before we get mass distribution to the population.”

After the story aired, Fleming later clarified that he intended to say, “It may be into 2021 before we get mass distribution to the population, as opposed to the end of 2021.”

“It is my sincere belief the pandemic will end in 2021 as most of the population will be vaccinated by summer 2021,” Fleming said in a statement.

He said that two or three of the companies producing vaccines “will be applying for an Emergency Use Authorization in November.” Their highest priority is getting the vaccine to people in nursing homes.

On Thursday, more than 88,000 COVID-19 cases were confirmed nationwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. That’s the highest single day total since the pandemic began.

Almost 1,000 of those cases were in South Carolina where Gov. Henry McMaster has lifted most of the state’s restrictions and has never implemented a statewide mask mandate. Earlier this month, he allowed restaurants to reopen to 100-percent capacity.

With case numbers on the rise, Fleming said there are various mitigation measures that “can and perhaps should be taken in certain circumstances."

“[McMaster] might recommend, or the mayors recommend that you bring down from 100-percent capacity to 50-or-25-percent in restaurants, might want to close bars a little earlier than maybe they’re open now, because people tend to congregate tightly," Fleming said. "I’m not saying he should do some of those things, but a lock down, shut in, certainly is not recommended, and the CDC doesn’t recommend that.”

Fleming added that national mandates are also not recommended.

When asked about White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows' comments earlier this week that, "We’re not going control the pandemic,” Fleming said it’s a “highly, highly contagious virus.”

“I don’t know if anyone is controlling it," he said. "We can mitigate this virus, but it’s not like an STD or other types of infection that are transmissible much more slowly, such as TB for instance. The ability to track it, track contacts, and limit its spread is really very, very difficult, but what we can do is mitigate it. That’s basically through hygiene measures: watching your distance, wearing a mask, and washing your hands.”

Fleming also addressed what happens to the White House Coronavirus Task Force after November’s election.

”If the outcome is in favor of President Trump, we’ll continue the process into the second term what we would call Trump 2.0," Fleming said. “If there’s a different outcome, they’ll be a smooth transition of course. Americans need not worry or have any concerns about that.”

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