The Army still plans to find a COVID-19 vaccine in 2020

Army National Guard Troop Administering Vaccine
Photo credit DVIDS

Human testing for a COVID-19 vaccine will begin in late summer, according to Army Brig. Gen. Michael Talley, commander of the Army Medical Research and Development Command (MRDC). 

Researchers from Talley's team say the Army is still planning to find a vaccine by the end of the year and have it ready for widespread distribution in 2021. 

"It's reasonable to expect some form of a vaccine available by the end of the year," said Col. Wendy Sammons-Jackson, director of the Military Infectious Disease Research Program at MRDC. "As long as we're able to continue to progress, learn, understand and adapt, I think we have all of the resources available and pointed in the same direction that can make [our timeline] possible."

That timeline was set by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in mid-May -- despite predictions from public health officials that put vaccine production at least 12 to 18 months away. 

Pentagon says SECDEF's promise of a vaccine within the year is a 'goal'

By the end of this year, the United States will have "a vaccine at scale to treat the American people and our partners abroad," Esper said at a briefing regarding vaccine progress at the White House.

At the time, the secretary's confidence in his timeline contradicted highly-publicized information from the president's coronavirus task force. When asked to explain this confidence, the Pentagon backtracked, saying the end of the year was just a "goal."

"We set a goal," Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said at a press briefing immediately following Esper's appearance at the White House. "You set a goal and you work backward from there." 

"I think its fair for the secretary to be confident," Hoffman added. "The secretary is showing optimism and confidence, and I think that's what the American people want to see."

More than 700 Army scientists, researchers and staff at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have been working "day and night" to develop a vaccine to the strain which has killed more than 100,000 Americans this year. A second team at Walter Reed has been doing the same. 

"U.S. Army researchers were critical during the SARS epidemic, the Zika virus and the Ebola outbreak as they helped develop antivirals and vaccines," Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy said in April. "They've done it before, and they will do it again."


Reach Elizabeth Howe on Twitter @ECBHowe.
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