Remarks by Vice President Pence in a Fox News Virtual Town Hall
March 24, 2020
12:02 P.M. EDT
Q With me now to begin this hour here at the White House, the Vice President, Mike Pence, who is leading the task force from Washington. And thank you for your time today.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good to see you, Bill. Welcome to the White House.
Q Thank you. It's an honor to be here. And I hope for the people at home, they get some value over the next two hours, and we'll try and get them some answers.
Moments ago, New York's Governor, Andrew Cuomo, is imploring the construction, immediately, of up to 30,000 ventilators to be shipped to New York. What would be the holdup on that, sir?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say, first and foremost, that – as the President announced action earlier this week for New York, for Washington State, for California – that from very early in this process, President Trump has forged a seamless partnership with our governors.
The way that we respond to health crises in this country is, as FEMA's mission describes, it's locally executed: the healthcare workers and, at times, law enforcement on the ground; the community officials that are in the lead. It's state managed, Bill, and then it's federally supported.
And from early on, we've been working that formula, empowering our governors, making sure they have the resources and the support that they need. And it's one of the reasons we've been surging resources. The President announced that, at the Javits Center in New York, that we're helping to build out about 1,000 beds at a field hospital. The President approved a major disaster declaration. And we're working around the clock on making sure that they have the masks, the medical supplies, and the ventilators to meet that need.
Q Now, you and the President have said consistently that many American companies have come to you offering the resources that you need, yet FEMA today says it will make a request for test kits starting today, and it will use the DPA, the Defense Production Act. How close are you to employing that for, let's say, the ventilator request from New York State?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first, let me – let me just say: If the American people could see what I've seen, both in this President's leadership and in the response of American businesses, they would be inspired every day. The President did initiate the Defense Production Act that allows a President of the United States to mandate production of particular items at times war or national crisis.
The reality is, though, that whether it be masks that tens of millions are being produced with spun-up production of companies like 3M and Honeywell – and even Hanes has stepped forward to manufacture masks – or whether it be ventilators and equipment that our hospital personnel need, what the President and I have witnessed consistently is that every time we've asked American industry to step forward, they've said yes. No one has said no, yet.
And we are working now through the structure of FEMA, through managing the supply chain at FEMA, to make sure that we're harnessing the fully energy of the American government just as we're harnessing a whole-of-government approach at the federal, state, and local level to confront the coronavirus.
Q Sir, what we have done, starting last night, is we've reached out to our viewers all over America, asking them to file questions with us.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q And many of these questions come by way of video. So I want to get to those right now. And I know, in this interactive sense, we want to try and bring the American people to the White House and vice versa. That's why we're here today.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But let me respond on the ventilator issue, just to be very clear. The National Stockpile, as we indicated, has some 20,000 ventilators, and we've been making those available to states, particularly we have been focusing resources – ventilators and masks and gowns – on the states most impacted. Those would be Seattle, where the major first outbreak occurred; California; and, really, what's become the epicenter of the coronavirus, a threat in this country, in the State of New York and the greater New York City area, including New Jersey. We'll continue to prioritize those resources.
But the American people should understand and be encouraged to know that, when it comes to ventilators, which those devices when – when people reach a point with the coronavirus where they have severe respiratory struggles, that there are, by most accounts, more than 150,000 respirators in hospitals and clinics across the country today. It's not merely what's in the National Stockpile, Bill.
But also, because the President brought together the leaders of all of our medical groups in the country, a week ago we were able to inform governors that anesthesiologists have a piece of equipment that they use for outpatient surgery for administering anesthetics – for anyone that's ever been put under.
And working quickly with the FDA, we were able to inform governors that those devices can be quickly converted to respirators for coronavirus – people struggling with coronavirus.
The FDA had to approve the change of a single vent. So yesterday, again, speaking with all the governors across the country, we're calling on governors in every state to survey all their outpatient clinics and identify what we also know are, today, tens of thousands of ventilators that are available to meet this need going forward.
We're also pleased to know that General Motors, working with a subsidiary, has already made a commitment to repurpose some of their manufacturing line to create ventilators. We're seeing industry step up. And I want the American people to know that – that, because of our cooperation with medical professionals around the country, we're identifying all new resources, all new equipment, that can be converted, that can add to the supply of tens of thousands of ventilators. And we'll continue to meet this moment with creativity and with the resources of the American people.
Q I just want to give our viewers at home an opportunity to get in on this.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Please.
Q And I appreciate the answer on that. We'll come back to that a bit later here today.
Carlia from Merritt Island, Florida, has the first question. Here is Carlia on that.
VIEWER: I think a lot of us right now are just wondering, what is the potential for a national state-at-home order? Is this something that America could be seeing in our near future?
Q A national stay-at-home order. How much have you considered that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Carlia, I can tell you that at no point has the White House Coronavirus Task Force discussed what some people call a "nationwide lockdown," or as you described as a state-at-home order.
What we've done is publish the President's coronavirus guidelines. I've got them right here, and I recommend them to everybody's attention. It's the "15 Days to Slow the Spread." This is what we believe every American should be doing during what remains of the next week or so, because we think we have the chance to significantly reduce the spread of the coronavirus and the threat that it presents to the most vulnerable among us.
You know, it's important to remember that most Americans, even those that contract the coronavirus, will fully recover. But for those who are seniors with a serious underlying health condition or anyone with an immunodeficiency, the coronavirus represents a serious threat to their health.
Q If I could just interject –
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And so the President is calling on every American to avoid groups of more than 10, to not eat in restaurants, use drive-throughs, avoid discretionary travel. We believe this can significantly reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
But, that being said, let me say, as states like California and Illinois and, of course, New York and elsewhere have taken strong measures, President Trump and I and our team fully support the decisions by your state and local officials that may be stronger than this. But we believe this is the right prescription across the board to slow the spread, and we recommend it to every single American.
Q On that chart are 15 days. Right now, we're around day nine.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We are.
Q So next Monday is officially the 15-day mark. I want to bring in my colleague, Harris Faulkner, who is with us as well. And, Harris, hello again.
Q Well, hello, Bill. And good to see you, Mr. Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Harris.
Q I just have kind of an opening question and then – absolutely. And then I will get to another viewer question because the power of the people, their voice, is so important today.
I want to follow up, though, on this ventilator, hospital surge-type of support for particularly the three hardest-hit states: Washington, California, and New York. And hearing from Governor Cuomo, as we have – and he has wanted to update the nation every day – about the talk. As you say, the administration is not saying no. He's saying that the administration is saying no about that stockpile of ventilators. Those are needed, as you said, Mr. Vice President, when this thing kicks in and it attacks your lungs and it becomes pneumonic. It is powerful stuff, and we need to gear up.
So if the spike now is doubling the number of cases in New York every three days, which is what Governor Cuomo said, and we're almost at what we thought would be an apex and we're not there yet – he calls it a bad combination of how many cases in people who are actually getting sick and how woefully ill-prepared we are in the numbers of ventilators. Why not just release that stockpile now?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, what I can tell you and your viewers, Harris, is that now we're doing just that. We're in the process of literally sending the entire National Stockpile out. And I want the people of New York to know that we are putting a priority on the State of New York and, of course, on Washington and California where the outbreak has been the most severe.
You know, since the President signed – (audio drop) –
We'll continue to detail that. But I can promise you in our conversations with Governor Cuomo, in our conversation the President I had with Mayor de Blasio just the day before yesterday: We want to assure them that we're going to make those resources available, we're going to identify resources that are in the private marketplace, but we are calling on our governors to identify those respirators in their outpatient clinics that anesthesiologists, and now the FDA, have said can be converted.
This, literally, Harris, would add tens of thousands of respirators to our healthcare facilities. And we renewed that call to our governors, and we'll continue to share that message even while we increase production.
Q Well – and, you know, what people may be able to appreciate about what you're saying, Mr. Vice President, is perhaps that can be done expeditiously because they're already in the system.
I'm just trying to find out, on people's behalf, what's faster – releasing the stockpile and putting more. And I don't live in New York. I'm just looking across the river and knowing that the Javits Center, which is across from the ferry and a lot of transportation hubs, has been turned into a makeshift hospital. So the visuals on this thing are eye-popping.
What's faster: going through the system, as you're describing, or the stockpile? Just a real quick answer on that, and I'm going to get to our viewer.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Harris, we think – the President says it's an all-of-the-above strategy. We want to use the National Stockpile. We want to identify resources that are already in the marketplace, including what the FDA has now approved to be converted to be used as respirators. But we are spinning up industry every single day. And the President has made it clear he's fully prepared to use the Defense Production Act. The executive order he signed against hoarding and price gouging yesterday was based on the Defense Production Act.
But at this point, I can tell you, American industry is stepping forward as never before. And we're going to meet this challenge as Americans together.
All right. Real quickly, can we go to that viewer question from Corey B?
VIEWER: What can we start to look for as the new normal? What can we start to expect as far as long-term lasting changes to better prepare us for the next health crisis or pandemic facing our country?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's a –
Q All right, Mr. Vice President –
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Please.
Q Go right ahead.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's a great question. And, you know, the President reflected on the fact that there – there may be some really good changes and practices just in our culture going forward, as we've dealt with this unprecedented spread of coronavirus and – an infectious disease.
But what we're working toward in this 15 days is to literally lower the number of Americans that will be exposed to the coronavirus. I'm inspired to see, literally, reports of people all across this country, not just in areas that have seen an outbreak but in areas where there have been a limited number of cases – they're putting into practice these principles. And we have every confidence, and our healthcare experts do, that that is slowing the spread.
But make no mistake about it: The President, as he said yesterday, is – has asked the task force, our health experts, our entire team to bring him recommendations about what's next.
And the President made it clear that, while we stay completely focused on the most vulnerable, on people for whom the consequences of contracting the coronavirus could be quite dire – which is seniors with serious underlying health conditions and people with immunodeficiencies – the President said we want to find a way, as he said, to open America back up, to get American business moving again.
The President has asked our team for recommendations about not how we do one or the other, but how we do both. And over the months ahead, we'll focus on our most vulnerable, but putting America back to work will also be a priority, as the President said, in weeks and not months.
Q All right.
Q Harris, thank you.
Q I know that Georgetown, Texas and Corey B. are excited to hear about the future. Bill, back to you.
Q You know, Harris, I think Corey's question really – he puts his finger on what everybody is concerned about. So thank you for the question and thank you for being here.
Our coverage continues in a moment. We're live in the Rose Garden, here at the White House, for the next hour and 40 minutes.
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Q Back with the Vice President here. And specifically about the economy and this whole idea about the cure, not – making sure that it's not worse than the problem itself.
If day 15 is Monday – and the President has clearly sent a signal that he's going to reevaluate this stuff – my guess is you're evaluating it on an hourly basis; clearly, on a daily basis. But what would be the trigger mechanism to tell certain parts of the country, "It's okay now. You've got the green light"?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let's begin with the fact that the "15 Days to Slow the Spread" was a recommendation the President embraced that we believed that, when you think about this curve of the epidemic, that we were at the early point in the curve, and that if Americans were willing to step up and embrace these practices, that we could literally – we could lessen the impact of the coronavirus and ultimately save lives.
The great news is millions of Americans are doing this. And what the President tasked our team to do at the White House Coronavirus Task Force and with our top health experts is now to evaluate the progress that we have made and bring the President recommendations for how we could begin to open America up in the weeks ahead.
But the most important thing for your viewers is to understand, as people are wondering "What can I do? What difference can I make?" – is literally by – you know, avoiding groups of more than 10; not eating in bars and restaurants right now; avoiding unnecessary travel. These are all the kinds of practices that will prevent the inadvertent spread and ultimately lower the amount of Americans that will be exposed to this, which puts at risk that group of people are truly vulnerable to serious consequences.
You know, the truth is, the risk to the average American from the coronavirus, the risk of serious illness, remains low. But because it's three times more contagious than the flu, and because – as we study numbers from what we know of China, study numbers from South Korea, Italy, and Europe – it is particularly seniors, seniors with serious underlying health conditions, that we've got to be particularly careful about. And that's why the "15 Days to Slow the Spread" was put into effect.
But as the President looks forward now, he – as he said, he's looking for recommendations about how we can responsibly reopen America while taking care of our most vulnerable.
Q It's interesting you said "weeks" too. We can come back to that also. But, in the meantime, Harris has one of our excellent viewer questions. Back to Harris for that now.
Q It is so true. And they have their pulse on the economy right now. Mr. Vice President, you're right on time with that. Let's watch George from Los Angeles, who submitted a question, and then we'll get to it. This was on Facebook.
VIEWER: We employ eight people who have been loyal; we have promised to take care of them for another 15 to 30 days. Beyond that, it's going to be very difficult for us to survive. What are you prepared to do for small businesses like ours?
Q Mr. Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well thank you, George, for the question. And let me say that, right after seeing to the health and safety of the American public, this President has been working, from early on, to make sure that the American people have access to free coronavirus testing. We've worked with insurance companies. We've worked with the Congress to provide support. And right now, the Congress is negotiating a bill that would provide direct support to American families. The average family of four would receive a payment of $3,000.
But speaking about those great employees that I can tell you really love and cherish, like any small business owner does, Congress also has a provision that would provide direct payroll support to companies like yours to keep people on the payroll, even if the business is closed for a period of the next few months.
It's – it is an effort for us to make the resources available so businesses across the country can weather the storm. We're going to – we're going to also have facilities, lending facilities, that make it possible for our vital industries – like hotels and airlines, and we've talked to our cruise industries – those that have been so impacted have access to capital.
But for small businesses, companies with less than 500 employees, there'll be that payroll support, which is all designed to make sure that we can weather the storm. And Congress is working on it right now. I think the President said again last night that we remain hopeful that Congress will come together – maybe even before the end of the day, to pass the CARE Act. But it's absolutely essential for our workers, for businesses just like George's, that Congress come together and pass legislation that'll help American families and American workers.
Q I know – as the President of the Senate, I'm curious to know when you might go over and shake them up on Capitol Hill because they've been fighting like cats and they need to get something done. The American people are waiting.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, Harris, I can tell you, what's been encouraging so far is, the first two bills that the President requested, there really has been strong bipartisan support.
Now, issues have arisen over the last two days, but our team on Capitol Hill tells us that we're really getting down to the fine print, we're hoping for a vote in the Senate today. I spoke to a member of House Democrat leadership last night and said, this is just a time – what the President wants to see is for the Congress to come together, as they did on those earlier two bills, and provide support for workers, for businesses, for families in America, and we're going to continue to drive toward that. And we continue to remain hopeful that that'll happen and it'll happen soon.
Q We have many more questions teed up, so stand by here. We are in the Rose Garden at the White House, and many more questions in a moment.
The President will join our conversation as well. He'll answer them in our virtual town hall. It's never been done this way before, but this is a moment in our nation's history where we all get a little inventive, and we shall throughout the afternoon.
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Q Welcome back to our Fox News virtual town hall. President Trump will join us in moments. We'll continue to take your questions. We'll get some answers for you as we all try and figure out what America is facing and, really, what the world is facing.
I'm Bill Hemmer here in the Rose Garden at the White House. My colleague, Harris Faulkner, joins us as well. And we'll get back to Harris momentarily here, but the Vice President continues to be with me here. Nice to see you again.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Bill.
Q Every morning, when I wake up, I go to the Johns Hopkins Global Map, and I'm studying data and numbers from various countries – not just ours, but –
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So are we.
Q – South Korea and China and Italy and Spain, over the weekend too. What is the first bit of data that you look for the moment you wake up in the morning?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it really is how we begin every meeting of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Dr. Deborah Birx is probably the leading expert on infectious disease in the world, and the day the President tapped me to lead this task force, I picked up the phone and told her she needed to come to the White House. And she's been my right arm every step of the way.
Q So would she be the person who brings you the first –
THE VICE PRESIDENT: She does.
Q – piece of information on a daily basis?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. What Dr. Birx said yesterday at the podium, at the briefing, is our entire approach. We want every decision that we bring to the President to make – to be informed by the data, informed by the experiences, from what we know of China – and we have had – we did have people on the ground in February that looked at their raw data. But we've been carefully studying South Korea, carefully studying what's happening in Italy. We've been trying to apply those lessons learned here.
For instance, in Italy, at this point, the average age of death is 80, and it heavily skews to people that had serious underlying health conditions.
Q What Dr. Birx said is that, among the majority of those who died in Italy, they had at least three preexisting conditions.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: She's spoken about that.
Q Is that a fact?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's what we see. The average age of contracting the disease in Italy is 60. And, at this point, no one – no one under the age of 30 – no one under the age of 30 has died from the disease.
Q And, of course, their death rate has been much higher than any other country.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q They're more than 9 percent. Ours has been relatively low, right around 1.3 percent, which is where South Korea was – or is, at the moment, too.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But can I just also say that, you know, our hearts go out to every family that's lost a loved one to the coronavirus. And it's one of the reasons why the President, early on, we – we changed all the guidelines for every nursing home in America; we raised the standards; we deployed all 8,000 of our nursing home inspectors across the country to enforce guidelines on the spread of infectious disease. And that's why we essentially said no visitors to nursing homes anymore, except in cases of hospice care. We don't want to deny families being together.
Q That can be tough, too. You know, a lot of strain on many people because of it.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We – we know, at this point, who is the most vulnerable, Bill. And whatever decision the President makes about reopening America, as he said in weeks, not months, we are going to continue to focus the attention and the compassion of the American people and our healthcare providers on people that are most vulnerable and that senior with a serious underlying condition.
Q That brings us to our next question for the Vice President on coronavirus. Here is what Brett wants to know about American U.S. testing.
Q My question for you is: How long do you think it will be before all the United States could get testing for the coronavirus?
Q We're doing better, but is there an answer today?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Brett, it's a great question. And what I can tell you is that, literally, testing is expanding all across the country by the tens of thousands every day.
You might be encouraged to know that, as of last Monday, we had tested roughly 50,000 people in this country who had gotten the results. But because President Trump brought together the top commercial labs in America, the better part of a month ago, and brought them into this system and asked them to harness the immense ability of our commercial labs to process testing – literally, the report that I received yesterday was that in one short week we'd done more than a quarter of a million tests around the country.
And we will soon be at a place where not just testing is available in the areas where we've seen outbreaks, but testing is going to be broadly available all across the country. We're getting there. The FDA actually just approved a swab test that can be self-administered, and you can contact your doctor about how to, how to use that test yourself. We're developing new methodologies.
But the most important thing to say is that while the testing is important, and we especially – we're telling every commercial lab, every state governor, we want to prioritize tests for people that have been hospitalized. We've issued that guidance from HHS. The reality is every American can make a difference by putting into practice "The 15 Days to Slow the Spread."
And for anyone who has a vulnerable senior in your home – I love what Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx said not long ago, and that is, to keep them safe, you should just conduct yourself, if you have someone in your home who's a senior with a serious underlying health condition, just act like you have the coronavirus. That is –
Q So many –
THE VICE PRESIDENT: – wash your hands a lot, social distancing, clean surfaces on a regular basis. That's how we protect our most vulnerable.
Q So many tens of millions of us have changed our behavior in that short period of time. And it was jarring in the beginning.
You've got your experts. We've got some good ones too. So I'll introduce the next panel right now. A panel of doctors who have been with us from the beginning, and they've got questions now for the Vice President: Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of "The Dr. Oz Show"; and Dr. Marc Siegel, professor of medicine, NYU Langone Medical Center, also a Fox News contributor; Dr. Nicole Saphier, a New York City physician, also a Fox News contributor.
And as I say hello to you all in various places, Dr. Oz, why don't you start with your question now for the Vice President?
DR. OZ: Mr. Vice President, the French physician who conducted the small pilot study showing that a malaria drug – it's called hydroxychloroquine, which is a basically malaria pill – and Z-Pak, which is azithromycin, stops the coronavirus infection, told me on my show that denying these medications – I'm going to quote him – "is unethical."
Now, the FDA appropriately desires randomized clinical trials for proof to guide the medical community. How can we accelerate these clinical trials while also satisfying the demand from physicians, frontline docs, who want these pills for their patients and themselves? Countries like China and France are already using them more widely.
And, sir, a very personal question: Would you take these pills if you felt ill today?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first, Dr. Oz, let me thank you for your encouraging words to the American people throughout the coronavirus. And, frankly, that would go to every one of the doctors on this panel on Fox. We're grateful to each of you.
The good news is, is the chloroquine medication, we actually deployed in the State of New York resources to be able to be administered to people. But I'm pleased to report to you, Doctor, that the FDA is approving off-label use for the hydroxychloroquine right now. Doctors can prescribe that medication, which, as you know, is a perfectly legal and approved malaria medication. But doctors can now – can now prescribe chloroquine for that off-label purpose of dealing with the symptoms of coronavirus. We're making that clear across the country.
As you know – and I'm sure the President will say this when he joins us in a bit – the President is very optimistic. He's very hopeful that some of these anecdotal results that we've seen around the country will prove out to be true. But I want to assure you, there's no barrier to access to chloroquine in this country. We're working to add to that supply, even as we speak. We're working with companies like Bayer that produce vast amount of chloroquine.
But at the same time, to your point, we are engaging in a clinical trial, while we make this broadly available for off-label use because we do want to take the opportunity – and we're doing that in New York State – to study the results of this so that we can we can better understand the impact, going forward.
Q Have you been able to answer his question about whether or not you would take it if you felt you needed it, Mr. Vice President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I would follow the advice of my physician. And I would recommend that approach to every single American.
Q Okay. Harris has a follow-up now. Harris, go ahead.
Q Yeah, thank you, Bill. Just a couple of things for the Vice President and Mr. – or Dr. Oz. Dr. Oz, I want to start with you: The hydroxychloroquine – I'm curious, do we know where that's manufactured? Because China is slow to get back online. So many of our pharmaceuticals are made there. So you just heard the Vice President say they're going to have more of it. Do we have a stockpile? What can you tell me?
DR. OZ: Well, I know from the task force that there is some drug that's available and this is coming online relatively rapidly. But you need about 20 pills for a therapeutic dose to take it over the 7- to 10-day period. So I don't think we have enough for all Americans.
But I do believe – just for folks watching – that it could make a meaningful difference in how contagious the virus is and also how sick you get with it. We don't know that for sure because, as the Vice President said, we haven't had the clinical trials.
But I'd love to hear what the Vice President has heard from the task force on the topic of availability – of enough supply, if we use it – not just to treat COVID-19 patients, but also prophylaxis for people who are near those patients – for example, spouses – and also doctors and nurses on the frontlines who sometimes can't protect themselves in emergencies.
Q Mr. Vice President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's a great question. Yeah, I spoke to Dr. Steve Hahn at FDA just yesterday about the availability of chloroquine in the American marketplace, and he said that there is a significant amount of chloroquine available for prescription by doctors. The important thing was that we had the FDA approve off-label use. It's a – it's a malaria medication; doctors can prescribe it. But now doctors can prescribe it for dealing with the symptoms of coronavirus.
But to Dr. Oz's point, we've also been working with manufacturers overseas. I've personally spoken, as the President has, to the CEO of Bayer, that produces chloroquine. They've been working with us to bring back, literally, millions of doses from overseas manufacturing facilities. That is happening as we speak. We'll focus those on areas where we have outbreak, where we have people that are struggling with coronavirus now.
But to Dr. Oz's point, we're also going to work to continue to spin up manufacturing so that, on an increasing basis, it's available for any American whose doctor might think that it would be helpful.
Q Some of it is being tested in New York City as of – as of today.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's where we're – Bill, that's where we're doing the clinical test. It began this morning. We've distributed thousands of doses across New York. And it is a – it is – the priority the President has placed on our response has been to those communities – Washington State, California –
Q And New York.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: – New York – that have seen significant outbreak. But whether it be testing, whether it be supplies, we're going to work to continue to make testing supplies and medicines more broadly available for every American.
Q Dr. Marc Siegel joins our conversation now with a question. Dr. Siegel.
DR. SIEGEL: Mr. Vice President, our healthcare workers are hurting, and they're fearful and they're worried, and they're on the front line, and they're heroes.
I want to talk to you about vaccines. Dr. Fauci has told me he's got a lot of confidence in some of these vaccine candidates. Moderna, as you know, has one that's going into clinical trials. Germany has one. Baylor has one. Novo has one. There's several of them that are possibilities. He feels confident that in a year or more we're going to get something that will work.
My question to you is: Can you see a scenario where we would offer it way earlier than that to our healthcare workers who are at great risk?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's – it's a great question, and what I would tell you is this is another example of how President Trump brought together the private sector, Marc. It would be weeks ago, the President brought in all the pharmaceutical companies – and not just the largest in this country but the largest in the world – and he said, "I want you to go straight to work. I want you to go to work on vaccines. I want you to go to work on what's called therapeutics, which are medicines that will bring relief."
And thanks to the incredible efforts of these pharmaceutical companies and the FDA – as you know, we got to clinical trials in 62 days. That was a new American record. But that's just phase one of the trial.
Dr. Fauci has told me again and again that to make sure these medications are safe, that that – the vaccine itself could be as much as a year and a half away. We'll follow the science on that.
But the good news is that the therapeutics – we expect a little bit later this spring to have some breakthrough therapeutics that will be available, that'll bring relief to Americans that are struggling with the coronavirus.
And also, in the bill the Senate is considering right now, there's a provision that's been championed by Senator Steve Daines, a great senator, and championed by others like Dr. Scott Gottlieb that will actually create resources to allow the manufacturer of different therapies and different approaches so that we're ready with the supply once we determine which one is most effective.
It's another reason why we need to get that bill in the Senate passed, not just for American workers and American businesses, small and large, but also because it's going to continue to fuel that innovation and the development of therapies and vaccines.
Q Thank you, Dr. Siegel. Dr. Nicole Saphier, now with your question. Doctor, go ahead.
DR. SAPHIER: Hi, thank you so much, Vice President Pence, for taking our questions and the transparency.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q It's very important to the American people. You know, I have a quick comment regarding Dr. Oz's question. You know, it does seem right now that Drs. Fauci and Birx, who I agree are incredible in this process – and I'm so glad they're involved – they seem to be taking a much more traditional approach to some of these experimental medications as, per se, we saw in the past with HIV, although we're encouraging fast track and compassionate use. You know, I wonder why we're not using parallel track. Because, right now, our hospital systems are being overrun. And if we are able to get some of these medications for not only prophylaxis, but treating the severity of the symptoms, we wouldn't necessarily need as many respirators. But that is just, you know, food for thought.
My actual question for you though is – and it's from healthcare workers all over right now, especially those small ones: You know, to handle the increased volume right now, we're shifting resources from the elective to emergent care, which is obviously leading to a large shift in healthcare dollars. Is there a plan to help the small medical practices and those servicing rural and underserved areas who routinely provide necessarily elective care to maintain smaller practices despite this massive shift in resources?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's really a terrific question, Doctor. And in the Senate bill that's being debated now, there's – the last time I checked, there's about $100 billion for hospitals that would recognize – we're asking Americans, we're asking hospitals to postpone elective surgery. And, frankly, millions of Americans are. That's freeing up a tremendous amount of supplies, masks especially, especially those critical ventilators. And – but the impact on the hospitals is very real. That's why it's in the Senate bill.
Let me speak though – I want to be very clear: What I hear from Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx is actually that we are on a dual track, whether it be the hydrochloroquine or some other hopeful medications. We're working with the FDA to allow these already legal medications to be used for off-label prescriptions by doctors; that they can be used for coronavirus.
But we're also, at the same time, we're going to do a clinical test so we can be straight with the American people about what we know is happening.
But I want all the viewers to understand that it's a dual track. This is a President that – it is all of the above. He wants – he wants all the resources to be brought to bear –federal, state, local.
And one last word if I might, Bill: that our healthcare workers have just done an incredible job –
THE VICE PRESIDENT: – in Washington State, New York City, California, all across the country. Men and women that are coming in, that are providing compassionate care to people that are struggling with the symptoms. I mean, it – and doing so oftentimes – oftentimes with long hours and great difficulties.
And I just want – I want our healthcare workers to know that, other than the patients who have contracted this disease, especially the most vulnerable, at the same level of priority, this President has placed our healthcare workers. It's one of the reasons, in the last bill, we insisted that they changed the law so that industrial masks – the N95 masks – could now be sold to hospitals. It has freed up tens of millions of masks that are now being distributed all across the country, sold to hospital systems, states, and being distributed through FEMA.
And lastly, Doctor, you mentioned the ventilators. I just received word – I know we started our conversation this hour on the subject of ventilators and the challenges that the state of New York faces. And I was so pleased to confirm that, earlier today, FEMA, from the National Stockpile, shipped 2,000 ventilators to the state of New York. And tomorrow, there will be another 2,000 ventilators shipped from the National Stockpile.
We have a ways to go yet. It's the reason why we're marshaling all the resources, not just from the National Stockpile, but from our existing supply and hospitals and that equipment that can be converted.
But I want to let the people in New York know that, earlier today, 2,000 – 2,000 ventilators were shipped directly to New York. New York is truly the epicenter of the coronavirus now in our country. Two thousand more will be arriving tomorrow.
Q And when you talk about protective gear and just – we started this hour on ventilators, and you're concluding this hour, literally, with some breaking news for New York. And that will be some relief, but we've got a ways to go.
On the protective gear, even yesterday, the Governor of Michigan was saying we've got enough to get us to the next shift; we don't have enough to get us to the next day. Just – can you address her concerns – Gretchen Whitmer – as she voiced that yesterday?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, what I can say is that we are spinning up American industry, whether it be companies like 3M or Honeywell that make this – these protective masks. They're called N95 masks.
But what the President did in asking Congress, in a bipartisan way, to change the law to extend liability protection has now made it possible for tens of millions of masks that are used on construction sites –
Q Can you meet the need?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: – to be used in hospitals.
I believe that the combination of more production that's happening from companies around the country, from our National Stockpile, but also the need is also being met – I mean, it's extraordinary, Bill. I mean, companies like Apple just announced that they're donating 6 million of these industrial masks to FEMA –
Q Let's keep it coming. Yeah.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: – and 3 million to our states. It's inspiring the way businesses are donating these supplies to our hospitals, and we need them to keep it coming.
Q I'm grateful for your time. And we're about to bring in the President. President Trump is heading over now. He'll answer your questions, as well, for the next hour. Our virtual town hall continues with the Vice President and now President Trump next.
12:55 P.M. EDT
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