Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and an expert in infectious diseases for the last four decades, gave his estimate of when a vaccine will be available to all Americans: “We’re talking probably by April.” The veteran immunologist said frontline workers, those with preexisting conditions, and vulnerable members of the population will be first in line.
But for those who wish to avail themselves of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine, assuming it progresses smoothly, Fauci has a timeline. “I believe within the first quarter,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper Wednesday. “We have a lot of people in this country who may not want to get vaccinated right away. That’s why were talking about this leading to the second or third quarter to get people convinced to get vaccinated.”
‘The news of this vaccine is really extraordinary.’
On Monday, Pfizer, BioNTech said their COVID-19 vaccine candidate BNT162b2 is 90% effective in first interim analysis of Phase 3 study in trial participants without previous evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Pfizer Chief Executive Dr. Albert Bourla sounded an optimistic tone in a statement: “Today is a great day for science and humanity.”
The companies said they are planning to submit for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the Food and Drug Administration soon after the safety milestones are met, which is currently expected in the third week of November. Assuming the vaccine is effective and reaches the market, there will be many logistical and distribution issues to solve in the months ahead.
“The news of this vaccine is really extraordinary,” Fauci said. He said the extremely high level of expected efficacy should help persuade more people to get vaccinated early, but he cautioned people not to abandon public-health measures like wearing a mask, washing hands, avoiding crowds and meeting others in public places outdoors.
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While the U.S. makes up approximately 4% of the world’s population, it has had approximately 20% of all COVID-19 cases. As of Thursday, the U.S. had reported 10.4 million COVID-19 infections and 241,809 deaths, just ahead of India (8.7 million cases to date). To put that in context: The U.S. has a population of 328 million people versus 1.35 billion in India.
The U.S. daily tally of coronavirus infections topped 140,000 on Wednesday, a new daily record and ninth consecutive day of 100,000-plus new cases. Hospitals in the Midwest and southern states including Texas and Florida continued to feel the strain. Hospitalizations are at their highest level since the pandemic began, up 30% since Nov. 1, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
Before the BNT162b2 announcement, Fauci said that he was hopeful that a coronavirus vaccine could be developed by early 2021, but said he believed it was unlikely that a vaccine would deliver 100% immunity. Two months ago, he said the best realistic outcome, based on other vaccines, would be 70% to 75% effective. The measles vaccine is among the most effective, with 97% immunity.
In addition to BioNTech SE
and partner Pfizer
in combination with Oxford University; Johnson & Johnson
; Merck & Co.
are among those also working toward COVID-19 vaccines.
“Help is coming and it’s coming soon,” he added. “We likely will be able to start dispensing vaccines in December. When we get both of those things together — vaccine and public health measures — that would really be a game changer.” The vaccine will need to be kept in freezing temperatures for distribution and will require two doses, and it’s not yet clear how long it will last.
But Fauci said that was not unexpected. “It’s a challenge that was anticipated,” he said. “That was part of the warp-speed agenda.”