University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
Miami, Florida

2:24 P.M. EDT

DR. FORD:  Well, good afternoon.  Mr. Vice President, Commissioner Hahn, Governor DeSantis, Governor — Congressman Díaz-Balart, other distinguished guests: It is truly a distinct honor and pleasure to extend a heartfelt welcome to you, to the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.

I’d like to thank each of you for your continued support, partnership, and tireless effort as we navigate the impact of COVID-19 on our community, the university, and our health system.

As I mentioned to the Vice President earlier, he could not have picked a better place to mark the start of the phase three COVID-19 vaccination trials.  The Miller School of Medicine was Florida’s very first medical school and is now home to South Florida’s first and only NCI-designated cancer center.

And the Gordon Center, where we are today, is one of the crown jewels of the university.  It is the home of the first cardiopulmonary simulator for medical education, named Harvey, and that structure has helped train tens of thousands of learners worldwide and continue to do so today.

And as an institution whose overarching mission and singular focus is to be at the forefront of advances in clinical care, medical education, and translational medicine to improve the health of our nation, we are pleased to host you, Mr. Vice President, your first visit to a phase three clinical trial site in the nation.

It is now my pleasure to introduce our governor and a great friend of the University of Miami, Ron DeSantis.

GOVERNOR DESANTIS:  Well, thank you, Dean.  In Florida, we had an interesting situation with our budget.  The budget was completed basically right before the “15 Days to Slow the Spread” was announced.  And so it was done in a financial situation that obviously changed dramatically.  We waited until the end of the fiscal year to consider that budget, but the budget vetoes that I had to issue were historic: a billion dollars.  I likened it to the Red Wedding version of line-item vetoes.

But even though we had to take off so much off the budget, we were able to support the Sylvester Cancer Center here at the University of Miami.  And I think that that’s a testament to, in one of the toughest years, to be able to be there.  It’s a testament to the great work that’s being done here across the board and with these clinical trials.  It’s even been more exciting.

I want to thank the Vice President.  Vice President Pence has been a great friend of the people of Florida.  He was down here, I remember, early on when we met at the terminal with the cruise — the cruise ship executives, and he’s been down multiple times, always willing to lend a helping hand.  And I’ll tell you, it’s been beneficial.

We’re encouraged by the most recent trends.  Yesterday, hospital admissions in the state of Florida for COVID-like illness was the lowest it’s been since June.  Emergency department visits for COVID-like illness yesterday was as low as it’s been since the middle of June.

And Florida’s case fatality rate is about 1.3 percent.  It’s one of the lowest case fatality rates in the country amongst large states.  And part of the reason is some of the great work that our medical professionals are doing here at the University of Miami Health System.  I learned in our roundtable: For admitted hospital patients with COVID, their fatality rate is 10 percent of the admitted hospital patients.  That is incredibly great results with a very difficult disease.  So I really want to thank the folks here who’ve been doing a great job saving lives and generating good patient outcomes.

Part of the reason I think people have also generated better outcomes is some of the therapeutics that have been developed, including this new therapeutic, remdesivir.  This was sent out to states a month or two ago when there was a more demand signal.  As more patients were coming into Miami hospitals, we needed to accelerate those shipments.  I called the Vice President, and I think, like, 48 hours later, it was all arriving at the hospitals across the state.

We’ve had to change the schedule to accelerate to make sure there was no gaps, and the White House has been there every time.  So I want to thank them for what they’ve done to be able to help our physicians have the remdesivir that they need to treat their patients.

And then, finally, I’m really excited that the federal government is sending point-of-care COVID diagnostic tests to nursing homes all across the country.  And as many of you know, we’ve had no visitations in nursing homes since middle of March.  It was the right thing to do.  We’ve done routine daily screening of staffing.  We’re doing bi-weekly testing of staff.  We’ve tested all the residents.  You know, we’ve obviously prohibited hospitals from sending COVID-positive residents back to nursing homes.  It’s been a big focus.  We sent millions of PPE — masks, face shields, all this other stuff.

But we haven’t been able to figure out, okay, when can they be able to see their loved ones.  It’s a tough balance.  But I think with this point-of-care test, you will be able to potentially have the visitation resume, where the family members can be tested, get an answer in 15 minutes, and then you get to go make that human connection.

And all the steps we take, there’s always costs on the other side, and we’ve done a lot to protect our nursing home residents.  I think our fatality rate there is testament to that.  But that has come at an emotional cost; it’s increased loneliness.  And we can’t just do that indefinitely.  This is a way to maintain the safety and still work to keep the virus out of these very vulnerable areas while still giving people some personal nourishment and having the families connect again.

So, Mr. Vice President, thank you for being a part of that.  We look forward to those landing in nursing homes throughout the state of Florida.  We want to thank you again for all you’ve done to help us amongst — along these many difficult months, but I do think that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and a lot of that is due to your support.  So, thank you.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Well, good afternoon.  I want to thank Governor Ron DeSantis and his entire team for the seamless partnership that they’ve forged with our administration since the early days of this pandemic.  We’ve worked together to ensure that Florida had the resources to do testing, that your hospital systems and incredible healthcare workers had PPE, ventilators.  And we’ve also been — we’ve also been working to make those therapeutics, like remdesivir, available in increasing measure.

But today is a historic day, because today, here at the University of Miami, we will begin the first phase three clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine in the United States.

Eighty-nine sites all across America, with more than 30,000 participants, will be a part of this phase three clinical trial.  But coming here to the University of Miami, to be able to partner with you, Dean Ford, and the entire team here is a great privilege.

And President Trump wanted me to be here — wanted me to be here, first and foremost, to say to the people of Florida that we are with you.  We’ll stay with you every step of the way.

We’re encouraged by the favorable trends here in Florida, but we’ll continue to make sure your healthcare workers have the resources to provide the level of care that any one of us would want a family member to be able to have: the level of care that’s been being delivered here at the University of Miami hospital system every day during the challenging days through which you have just passed.

But today is a day of hope.  Today is a day of promise.  And today is a day, I think, that — that is a tribute to American ingenuity and to President Trump’s relentless drive toward achieving medicines and a vaccine for the American people.

It’s remarkable to think that the company that will begin phase three today, a company known as Moderna, actually was the first company in America to begin phase one clinical trials back in the month of March.  And as Dr. Stephen Hahn of the FDA may reflect in just a moment, that was in record time.  Literally, it would just be a matter of weeks from when the United States first received the coding for the coronavirus that we were able to initiate an effort to develop a vaccine.  And in 62 days, a period of time never heard of in vaccine development, we were able to go to phase one trial.

But today, here in Florida, we begin the first phase three clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine, and we begin it — we begin it in a spirit of the same urgency and the same hopefulness from which it began.

We have moved, at President Trump’s direction, at a historic pace.  But as Dr. Hahn will also reflect, we are going to ensure that we move at a safe and effective pace.  And I want to assure the people of Florida and people all across this country that we will cut no corners in the development of this or any vaccine.

We’re truly grateful for the support of members of Congress in both political parties that have made more than $10 billion available.  I want to thank Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart, who is with us today, as well as the Florida delegation to the House and the Senate for their support.

Because it’s important to note that under Operation Warp Speed, we’re not even waiting to the end of clinical trials to create the vaccines.  Whether it be Moderna or it was announced last week with Pfizer, we’re actually having these companies produce the vaccines as we speak.  And as soon as they are confirmed to be safe and effective, we’ll have tens of millions of doses able to distribute across the country.  It is that initiative, the President launched in Operation Warp Speed that is a reflection of our commitment to bring these medicines, to bring a vaccine to the American people just as soon as we can responsibly do it.

But let me say — let me say thank you again to just a few more folks.  I want to thank Governor Ron DeSantis and his entire team for your leadership during the trying days through which Florida has just passed and throughout this pandemic.  It is a — it is a tribute to Governor DeSantis’s professionalism and to his heart that, from very early on, Florida has leaned into this effort.  And I particularly would commend the Governor’s efforts to look after seniors who we’ve known from the beginning — seniors with serious underlying health conditions — represented the most vulnerable to serious outcomes.  And it was efforts here in Florida that really — really became a model for long-term care around the country.  And we’ll continue, as the Governor said, to support those efforts in the days ahead.

I want to thank the University of Miami not just for being the site of the first phase three clinical trial, but just as much, Dean Ford and your team here, for everything that you’ve done throughout this pandemic and in the difficult weeks through which Florida has just passed.  To have a separate COVID-only hospital to be able to continue to operate your hospital for all the other healthcare needs in the community is a tribute to the innovation and effectiveness of the doctors and nurses and all the healthcare workers in this extraordinary facility.

Finally, I want to say thank you to all of those who’ve agreed to participate in this clinical trial.  It is remarkable to think 30,000 Americans were willing to step forward and to participate in this phase three clinical trial, and they have our thanks.  People who have volunteered to participate in this and other trials are doing more than their fair share to help our nation through this challenging time, and they have our thanks.

For anyone looking on who would like to be a part of either this clinical trial or other clinical trials for therapeutics or for vaccines, you can go to ClinicalTrials.gov and be a part.  That’s ClinicalTrials.gov, and you can get information on how you can participate.

But we all have a role to play.  And we all know that each and every one of us, by practicing good hygiene, washing our hands, wearing a mask every time that state and local authorities indicate it’s appropriate, or wearing a mask when you can’t properly socially distance is how each of us can play a role.  But for those Americans, literally more than 100,000 who have stepped forward and volunteered to participate in clinical trials around the country, you have our thanks as well.

Today, I said, is a great day in America.  The first phase three clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine begins here in Florida and in 89 different sites around the country.  And it begins with the best professionalism of our pharmaceutical companies in this country.  American innovation, American creativity begins with the hopes and, I know, the prayers of the American people.

And I’m convinced more than ever on this great day that we’ll get through this.  And we will reach that day, I truly believe, as Dr. Fauci said not long ago, when “if” not — or not “if,” but “when” we will have a vaccine, we’ll have it available to distribute to tens of millions of Americans.  And we’ll reach that day when we finally can begin to put this coronavirus in the past.

So with that, I’m going to turn it over to Dr. Stephen Hahn for his remarks and then — and then, really, one of the — one of the leaders of the clinical effort here at the University of Miami, and we’ll take a few questions.

Dr. Hahn?

DR. HAHN:  Thank you, Mr. Vice President and Dean Ford, and Dr. Doblecki-Lewis.  Thank you for hosting us today.  In the early part of this pandemic, President Trump and Vice President Pence asked FDA to make sure that we removed any unnecessary barriers to the development of medical products, and we have followed that request.

Today, we are seeing the initiation of the first phase three clinical trial of a vaccine candidate.  And that is, as to the Vice President said, a historic event in an incredibly short period of time.

I want to thank my colleagues — my medical colleagues who are in the frontline taking care of patients, but also who put together this clinical trial and are helping to enroll patients, and ensuring that it’s done in the absolute highest-quality way.

It is a true sign of America’s great biomedical research enterprise that we find ourselves here today.  Normally, this process would take months and years.  And it’s to the dedication of great medical professionals and researchers that we’ve gotten to this point.

Conducting clinical trials are a crucial piece of our efforts to approve a vaccine for COVID-19.  FDA has oversight over a number of clinical trials for both therapeutics and vaccines — in fact, over 140 — with more than 450 therapeutics in the pipeline.  And I want to thank, like the Vice President did, the Americans who have stepped forward to volunteer for these trials, because they are our true heroes as we evaluate the efficacy and safety of a vaccine.

Now, the important scientific data that we will get from the phrase three clinical trials — and this is, of course, one clinical trial that we’re going to see, but several others are planning to go to phase three in the next several weeks — and the data that come from those clinical trials will allow FDA to do its important work to determine whether a vaccine is safe and effective.

And we’re doing everything we can at FDA to support that development by providing regulatory and scientific advice, as well as technical assistance for how to conduct those clinical trials; the number of people that need to be in those clinical trials so that we can have confidence in the data; as well as to make sure that there’s diversity in the clinical trial population, because what we want is to have generalizability of those results to the entire United States population.

As I mentioned, we expect a number of additional trials to go into phase three in the next several weeks to months, and that’s good news for the American people.

As we laid out in our guidance regarding vaccines and in all of our actions to COVID-19, FDA scientists will not cut corners in order to evaluate a medical product, and that includes a vaccine.  And I know that our colleagues performing these clinical trials want to have and must have confidence that we will do that as we evaluate the data that they generate for that vaccine.

It’s these scientists who will call the balls and strikes on approving a vaccine, and they will make their decisions based upon the data and science that’s generated from these clinical trials.  We will authorize or approve a vaccine solely on the basis of the data that we receive in the determination of safety and efficacy.

So I really appreciate the leadership of the University of Miami and other investigators around the country.  Again, it’s the truly great American research enterprise that allows us to get to this point, and Americans can have confidence in FDA that we will make the absolute best decision on their behalf.

Thank you.

DR. DOBLECKI-LEWIS:  Good afternoon.  I’m Susanne Doblecki-Lewis.  I’m the site principal investigator for the University of Miami site for the Coronavirus Prevention Network and for the first phase three clinical trial of that network, which is the Moderna vaccine trial.

We’re incredibly excited to begin this process here at the University of Miami, and we are really amazed and humbled by the number of volunteers who have already stepped forward to be a part of this trial.  And it’s these volunteers, as the others said, who will make the difference and will allow us to know whether we do have an effective and safe vaccine that can move forward.

Here at the University of Miami, we are very aware of the need to shape our enrollment to reflect our strength, which is the diversity of our population here, and particularly the diversity of people who are at high risk for COVID-19.  So we take that mandate very seriously, and we’ll plan to enroll 1,000 patients here; 500 will get the vaccine and 500 will get placebo.

We’ll follow those patients very carefully for two years after the second injection of the vaccine.  The vaccine consists of two injections, phased 28 days apart.  And we’ll be following extremely carefully, checking for any symptoms of potential COVID disease, and performing follow-up swabs and assessments to make sure that we completely understand the efficacy of the vaccine.

So we’re very, very happy to be at this point, and optimistic and looking forward to beginning our enrollment here.

Thank you.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Doctor.  Questions?

Q    Vice President?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Yes, please.

Q    Thank you, Vice President.  You’ve been talking about the speed at which the vaccines are coming —

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Right.

Q    — and making sure that they’re safe.  But a new poll out today is talking — shows that about 50 percent of those polled are concerned and may wait to take the vaccine.  Twenty percent are saying they won’t take it all.  Only 30 percent.  How concerned are you about people’s trust in the vaccines that could be coming down the pipeline?  And what will the administration be doing to ensure people’s confidence (inaudible)?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, first and foremost, we’re — we are moving at a historic pace to develop a vaccine.  And the phase three clinical trials that begin today at 89 sites across the country with Moderna are just one of the phase three clinical trials that will begin in the days ahead.  But the American people can be confident there’ll be no — there’ll be no shortcuts, there’ll be no cutting corners on safety in the development of this vaccine.

We remain very confident that Dr. Hahn and the FDA are applying the highest standards to the development of this medicine.  And I believe as we go through the clinical trials, as we see the results of this and other versions of the vaccine, that the American people will see the carefulness with which we are approaching this.

But make no mistake about it: President Trump has made it clear that we want a vaccine available for the American people every bit as soon as it is safely and effectively available.  And that’s why we’re literally producing tens of millions of supplies, we’re purchasing literally billions of syringes to be ready to administer the vaccine.  But we’re going to make sure that it’s safe.  I expect the American people will see that carefulness and they’ll respond.

I’d like to invite Dr. Hahn to speak to that just one more time.

DR. HAHN:  Yes, sir.  Thank you, Mr. Vice President.  So I think your question is very, very important because, you know, we must maintain the confidence of the American people in the scientific process.  So I think it’s important to understand that the reduction in time with respect to the development has a couple of different aspects to it.

One is, and one thing that’s been done during this time, is that the trials have been compressed.  For example, in a normal situation, you do phase one, wait some time — maybe as much as six months to a year — phase two, then phase three, and you’d wait for the data each time after that, and then apply for the next one.  In this situation, these trials have been compressed, so phase one and phase two could be done together.  You generate the appropriate information.  And FDA is doing what’s called a “real-time review.”  We’re not just waiting for the end of the trial; we’re reviewing in real time so that we can look at the data in real time and then come to a quicker decision at the end of the trial.  We’ve done that with a lot of medical products during COVID-19, and it’s given us a leg up in terms of speed.

The other point about this is that you can imagine, if you’re a developer of a vaccine, you’re going to wait until an authorization by FDA before you start manufacturing the vaccine.  Why would you make one unless you had that determination that it was safe and effective?  But because of the financial backstop that’s been given by the U.S. government, the manufacturing by Operation Warp Speed can take place so that if a decision is made around safety and efficacy, then that can be instituted and be given.  So that cuts off a significant period of time.

And then one last point that I think is really important for the American people to know: FDA is receiving applications from around the world; it’s not just Operation Warp Speed.  We have drawn a very bright line between Operation Warp Speed and FDA because we absolutely must maintain regulatory independence.

And one thing I can promise you is that the great scientists at FDA, the incredible expertise they have, they will call the balls and strikes on this one and they will do it based upon our gold standard of efficacy and safety, and they will do it to the benefit of the American people.

Q    Mr. Vice President, the (inaudible) that side effects has been (inaudible) of any vaccine, like headaches and chills — I think Dr. Fauci today said these (inaudible) Moderna company will be able to produce a vaccine in November.  Can we say, officially from now, that the world already has the first vaccine against COVID-19?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me let Dr. Hahn speak to that.  What I can say is that today is a historic day because this is the first day of phase three clinical trials on a coronavirus vaccine in the United States.  But I think it’s very important, while it’s very promising — and our medical experts believe it’s not “if,” it’s “when” — we believe that this and other potential vaccines are showing such great promise that we believe that we will have a vaccine by late this year or early next, at the latest.  We’re going to continue to drive toward that without in any way compromising the safety of the American people or the process itself.

But I think it’s important that we let — we let the process work through, even as we seek to compress the time.  Look, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic.  It’s one of the reasons why the President launched Operation Warp Speed.  It’s one of the reasons why he told the head of the FDA early on — in every respect with regard to medicines, with regard to our nation’s response to this — that we move regulatory barriers out of the way without in any way compromising health and safety.  And we’ll continue to do that for the sake of America first, but — and for the sake of developing a vaccine for the world.

Yes, please.

Q    Mr. Vice President, if the vaccine proves to be successful, how will the federal government make enough for every American who wants one can be able to receive one?  And who will get the vaccine first, and by when could they receive that vaccine?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, it’s — one of the centerpieces of Operation Warp Speed is that we’re not going to wait for the final clinical trials to be completed to start making the vaccine.  So, literally, we are beginning today in this phase three clinical trial with Moderna, and Pfizer recently was — announced that they’re — they’ve reached an agreement to generate 100 million doses on their vaccine candidate, even while clinical trials are underway.  Our — as I mentioned, we’re purchasing over a billion needles and syringes to be able to administer to the American people.

But the President set a goal early on.  He said he wanted — he wanted 100 million doses by this fall and 300 million by the winter, and we’re going to continue to drive toward those numbers and drive toward those objectives without in any way compromising the safety and health of the American people.

But we’re making it now, which I think should be a great source of encouragement to the American people.  And our scientists continue to believe that this and other vaccines are — have shown early signs of efficacy, effectiveness.  As we say, being a layman in the room at the taskforce every day, “early signs that they work.”  And we’re going to make — we’re going to make a lot of it and literally have tens of millions of doses available to the American people.

Our first objective is to have a vaccine that works, to have tens of millions of doses available, and then administer it to the American people.

In the back.

Q    Who would receive it first?

Q    Thank you, Mr. Vice President.  Can you describe the distribution system that (inaudible) or the planning for a distribution system for the vaccine?  And if there — if there is this finite number of doses, how is that — who decides where it goes first and who gets it first?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think I’m going to let Dr. Hahn speak to that.  I will tell you that I believe our approach, with regard to the vaccine, would reflect our approach throughout the coronavirus pandemic.  And that is that we would — we would look to focus on the most vulnerable.  We know that — that seniors with underlying health conditions represent the most vulnerable; people with immunodeficiencies represent the most vulnerable.

And my expectation is that we would work very closely with states who know their citizens the best and would know the best and most effective way to distribute that.

But, Dr. Hahn, did you want to reflect on —

DR. HAHN:  Yes, sir.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  — distribution?

DR. HAHN:  So CDC is taking the primary role in terms of developing the plan, as well as doing the scenario planning around the administration of vaccine.

I really want to emphasize one point, and that is: Before I became FDA Commissioner, I was a cancer doctor.  And I can tell you I didn’t have a crystal ball then, and I don’t have a crystal ball now.  What I can tell you is that the data and the science from the clinical trial will answer the questions that you’re asking in terms of populations, in terms of who’s first.  Those data will guide the review process at FDA, will guide the authorization process, and then will guide the application of the vaccine in the administration.

And so we really do have to wait for those datas that are generated from the trials.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Great.  Good answer.  In the back.

Q    What is the administration’s plan for affordability for people wondering are they going to be able to afford a vaccine or is someone insured; will it be available to me?

And then also, I’m wondering: For the companies that are manufacturing vaccines, do they have the in-house capacity or is the administration bringing in some other means to help for the development of the vaccine, as you said, (inaudible) have all these companies (inaudible)?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, Operation Warp Speed is working very closely with the Department of Defense to make sure that we have the capacity to distribute a vaccine once it’s determined to be safe and effective.

And what I can tell you is, from early on, President Trump has made it clear we never want cost to be a barrier to people getting testing.  We don’t want — we won’t — don’t want people to avoid getting the treatment that they need.

And I don’t want to speak for Congress, I don’t want to get ahead of things, but I’m — I’m sure, in the days ahead, Lord willing, if we have a vaccine that is safe and effective, that we’ll be going to Congress to make sure that it’s available to every American.

Q    Mr. Vice President, (inaudible) talks schools (inaudible).

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Go right ahead.

Q    President Trump has been a big proponent of getting kids back to school.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Right.

Q    Governor Ron DeSantis saying (inaudible) Department of Education that everyone or every school, brick and mortar, (inaudible) some form by the end of August.  But as the same time, as you’re well aware, there’s been a surge of cases here in Florida.  I know that things are better over the last few (inaudible), but still, we’ve heard from a lot of teachers and a lot of parents who say they’re not ready.  Should we be sending our kids back to school here in Florida?  Is it safe for all the parents, as you mentioned, and the teachers?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, first, let me — let me just say that in studying the data around this country and around the world, one thing we know for sure, and that is the risk of the coronavirus to healthy kids is very low.  It’s very low.

The other thing we know for sure is that there are real costs to children for not being in the classroom and receiving in-person learning.  And kids are falling behind academically.

President Trump just reflected last week on estimates of how far our kids have already fallen behind because of disruption of schools last spring in mathematics and in reading.

But there are other costs beyond that.  And let me say — and I’m going to let the Governor maybe have the last word on this — but as a former governor, I know that the services that our kids receive, whether it’s special needs kids, whether it be children with learning disabilities, whether it be — whether it be the nutrition services supplementing meals for underprivileged children, those are — those are provided at our schools.

And so we don’t want our kids to fall behind academically, but we also — we also don’t want our kids to — to fall — fall behind with all of the other aspects of education, and not the least of which is the value of socialization.  My wife is a schoolteacher.  She’s taught elementary school for 35 years.  She’s getting ready to go back to the classroom this fall.  And she says, you know, that kids need to be with their friends.  They need to be learning social skills.

So in all — in every respect, we think, as the CDC published its additional recommendations last week — you can take a look at that first document — the first thing CDC said was it’s best for kids to be back in school.

Now, we want to recognize that there may be individual communities and there may be individual states that would calibrate that.  But it’s like the American Academy of Pediatrics said about two weeks ago: All consideration of education this fall should begin with restoring in-person learning.  Sixty-five thousand pediatricians in America said, “Get the kids back in the classroom.  Get them back in school.”

My pledge, though, to the people of Florida, and especially to parents and grandparents who may have concerns, is that we’re going to make sure Florida and every other state across the country has the resources to be able to bring the kids back to school safely.

And we know there’s additional costs.  It’s one of the reasons why President Trump is calling for a new $105 billion from the Congress that we’ll make available; $70 billion will be distributed just for K-12 education, and the rest for higher education.

We understand that making sure that they’re social distancing, and making sure there’s cleaning supplies and PPE have real costs.  And we’re going to work with governors, like your governor, all around the country to make sure that those resources are available.

But I must tell you, working as I do in this role with governors all across the country, we’re at a place where all 50 states, including Florida, have a very responsible plan for returning kids to the classroom.

And we also recognize the fact that while the risk to healthy children of the coronavirus is very low, that we also want to make sure we take into account faculty members — there may be vulnerable faculty members — and also the impact that reopening the schools may have on communities as a whole.  And so we think there are good countermeasures in place.  We’ve looked at plans of states across the country.  We’re going to go to Congress, as we are this week, to make sure states have the resources to be able to do that.

But President Trump and I both believe, and I know your governor believes, that it’s best for our kids to get them back to school.  It’s best for our college kids to get them back on campus and start learning again.  And we really do believe that we can do it in a safe and responsible way.

But safely reopening our schools should be a priority for every American.  And I pledge to you, our administration is going to work with Florida and with people and leaders all across this country to accomplish that.

Governor, did you want to have a word on that?

GOVERNOR DESANTIS:  Sure.  Well, in the state of Florida, our view is that parents should have a choice in terms of the instruction for their kids.  And so if a parent believes that distance learning is more appropriate now, whether that’s because of perhaps the child has a health condition or perhaps they’re just not comfortable, they have a right to opt for that.

We’re proud of what we’ve done in distance learning.  We’ve had — a lot of states were asking Florida, “How are you doing that?” — when we all went to that in the middle of March.  At the same time, the kids have lost some of the gains.  There’s just no doubt about it.  There’s nothing like having someone in there, in that classroom, giving them instruction.

So if you want to offer distance, by all means do it.  But there are a lot of parents who really want to see their kids have the ability to get into school, and we think they have — should have the right to make that meaningful choice as well.

A lot of teachers really want to get back.  There are some who have expressed concerns.  And my view is I would be as generous with that is possible.  Obviously, our guidelines statewide: Anybody who would be in a vulnerable group has to have accommodations made.

But if you’re just someone that may not be in that risk group, you just don’t want to perhaps be in the school: Fine, we’ll work with the ones that we have.  There’s going to be some parents that are going to opt for distance.  There’s going to be many parents that opt for in-person, and you can, kind of, make it work.  I think we should be very flexible on it.

But to shut out millions of kids, parents, from even having a choice to bring them back, you know, I think would be a mistake.  And I think the Vice President alluded to it: The data on this and the evidence on this is overwhelming, not just in terms of kids being at less risk.  I mean, I — you know, I know we’ve talked about past pandemics, but I can’t think of one where kids were at less risk than this one.  Certainly ‘68, ’57, H1N1, 1918 — forget about it.  So that’s just the reality.

But it’s also the case that, you know, the kids are not drivers of transmission.  One of the members of the British team that advises the Prime Minister said they’ve looked and they haven’t been able to identify a single case in the world of a child-to-teacher instruction [sic] between the age of 5 and 15.  Maybe there’s some out there, but clearly it’s not been a huge issue in terms of furthering community transmission.

So those are really the two things: safety for kids; is it going to do community transition?  And then if there are issues with faculty — I would be as generous as possible, but I think it’s true, we’ve had people working in all aspects of life throughout this whole thing with certain safety precautions, and I think that they’ve been able to do a good job.  And I think the schools, you know, can do it as well.

So we’ve — they’ve missed a lot of time already.  And my fear is, if you do another semester virtual, the dropout rate, some of the others problems — you know, I really believe that the teachers and the administrators that are there, you know, they serve important functions in the lives of so many of our kids, particularly those who come from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  That’s right.  Well, thank you, Governor.

And I just want to close by saying thank you to the people of Florida.  I know it’s been a challenging time since — particularly since cases began to rise in this state.  But the favorable trends that are beginning to emerge here in Florida are a great tribute to the strong leadership of your governor and his administration, to all of your extraordinary local health officials, but mostly it’s a tribute to the people of Florida who’ve been willing to make the sacrifices to put the health of others first.

And I hope today, with the start of the first phase three clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine starting right here in Florida, gives you confidence that if all of us continue to do all we can, we’re going to reach that day that we put this coronavirus in the past.

In the midst of it, we’re going to continue to make sure that Florida and your healthcare workers have everything that you need.  Make sure the resources to support testing, to make sure the incredible doctors and nurses have all the PPE that’s needed.  And we’re going to drive relentlessly toward more medicines and more vaccines, even while we open up Florida, put people back to work, and open up Florida schools again in a safe and responsible way.

So thank you all, and especially thank you to the good people of Florida.

END            3:05 P.M. EDT