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Trump Puts Vaccine Effort into ‘Warp Speed’ Amid Economic Devastation: The Week Ahead

President Donald Trump is once again bullish about the possibility of creating a coronavirus vaccine by year end, and on Friday disclosed a new project called “Operation Warp Speed.”

The vaccine initiative’s name “means big and it means fast,” Trump said Friday from the White House Rose Garden, where he named former GlaxoSmithKline vaccine division head Moncef Slaoui as the project’s chief advisor. He will work alongside four-star Army General Gustave Perna, who will oversee the vaccine’s distribution logistics. They will work in coordination with vaccine development efforts already underway.

And while Trump touted the progress made so far and his confidence that a vaccine will be developed soon, the fast-track timing he is pushing for flies against the conventional wisdom of public health officials and epidemiologists who say at least 12 months are needed to develop and adequately test a potential vaccine before it can be widely distributed.

“Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back,” Trump said as he pushed for more states to begin the reopening process.

Trump is up for re-election in November, and critics are quick to charge that he is putting politics ahead of American lives, pushing for a restart of the economy while the coronavirus outbreak is far from over.

Prior to Trump’s Rose Garden appearance, an editorial in peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet excoriated the president’s handling of the pandemic. “Americans must put a president in the White House come January 2021, who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics,” the editorial said in a scathing commentary on Trump’s decision to minimize the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s public health flagship agency, and defund the World Health Organization, a move that could damage global cooperation in matters of science and health concerns.

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Partisan politics aside, an argument can be made that some form of economic recovery is needed before the impact from the coronavirus sends the U.S. recession careering headlong into a deep depression.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Labor said it received another 3 million initial jobless claims for unemployment benefits for the week ended May 9, bringing the total to 36.5 million jobs lost for an eight-week total since the coronavirus outbreak locked up the nation in mid-March. And on Friday, data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that specialty store sales in April for apparel and accessories fell a precipitous 89.3 percent from April 2019.

U.S. retail sales as a whole plummeted 16.4 percent from March’s decline of 8.3 percent. Consumer spending drives two-thirds of the nation’s gross domestic product and the retail sector, the nation’s largest private-sector employer, contributes $3.9 trillion to the U.S.’s annual GDP.

Still, states and municipalities must balance the desire to reopen and reboot their economies against a potential rise in COVID-19 infections. Malls are starting to reopen where restrictions are easing but with new safety protocols in place. Some retailers in Texas and Georgia began reopening last week, largely relying on contactless forms of payment and other tweaks, and introducing curbside pickup if they hadn’t offered the service pre-COVID-19.

News reports indicate that some “personal contact” businesses that have reopened, such as nail and beauty salons and barber shops, are closing again after an employee tested positive for the virus. Most troubling, however, is that it could take weeks for new outbreaks to appear, as the coronavirus typically incubates for seven to 14 days. What’s more, the most infectious period is believed to be just before the newly infected begin to show signs of infection, asymptomatic individuals notwithstanding.

In the meantime, the debate on economic versus public health, and how to balance the two concerns, isn’t going away anytime soon. And with so many unknowns still on the table, there’s a chance that without a vaccine it could take a few more years before herd immunity develops around the world.