WASHINGTON — Army officials said Thursday a COVID-19 vaccine for the public is 12 to 18 months away and that a quick-response field test for the virus will also not be available any time soon.
Military labs and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are looking at how to adapt existing vaccines and has started vaccine testing on mice, but officials briefing reporters were blunt in underscoring a longer timetable.
Army researchers said they got a sample of the virus from a patient who tested positive in Washington state. They are using that to develop a vaccine as well as other countermeasures, such as drugs to boost immunity.
Eleven Defense Department clinical laboratories are currently authorized to provide diagnostic testing services. As of March 5, testing has been performed for 21 patients in DOD clinical laboratories, officials said.
In a separate briefing, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday that the Pentagon is prepared to continue operations even if there is a local outbreak of the new coronavirus. Esper said response plans, which include a possible lockdown of the Pentagon, should be ready next week.
“Our national military command center has the capability to go for weeks at a time if they have to be locked down inside the building if we have some type of outbreak,” Esper told reporters.
Already several military exercises have been reduced or canceled, travel has been restricted in some regions, and Navy ships in Europe have instituted a two-week quarantine period between port visits.
In South Korea, where one U.S. soldier and his wife and child tested positive, Army Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. forces in Korea, has implemented restrictions on off-base travel — to include non-essential social events and “eat-in seated dining” — and allowed non-essential civilian workers and contractors to stay home. Similar restrictions apply to Ft. Lewis, which is south of Seattle, Washington.
Meanwhile, the virus has caused a work stoppage at the F-35 fighter-jet factory in Japan, according to Undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment Ellen Lord.
Lord told reporters at a defense conference in Washington that on Wednesday morning she also learned that Lockheed workers at the F-35 plant in Italy had been directed to work from home.
Lockheed is the prime contractor for the F-35. The company is also restricting travel to the plant in Cameri, Italy, which is west of Milan, one of the hot spots for the virsus.