There’s a chance that hundreds of millions of doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine could be available by early next year, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said on Thursday, even as the federal government has yet to approve a vaccine against the virus.
In an appearance on NBC’s Today Show, Fauci was asked if he thought it was “in the realm of possibility” to have a potential vaccine ready for wide distribution by January.
“I do,” Fauci replied. “I mean, I’m obviously part of the team that’s involved in that.”
Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted that the ideal plan for a potential vaccine is to ensure it is safe, effective — and can be rapidly scaled up for distribution.
Of course, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved a vaccine for the coronavirus. Noting that vaccine trials are still in the early phase, Fauci added that to accelerate production, the companies making the medicine would need to do so “at risk.”
“In other words, you don’t wait until you get an answer before you start manufacturing. You at risk — proactively — start making it, assuming it’s going to work,” Fauci said. “And if it does, then you can scale up and hopefully get to that timeline.”
“I think that is doable if things fall in the right place,” Fauci said.
Fauci was responding to a question about media reports that the Trump administration is launching a project dubbed “Operation Warp Speed,” to speed up delivery of a vaccine against COVID-19. The deadly disease has been diagnosed in more than a million people in the U.S.
The White House plan aims to bring together pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and the military with the goal of substantially shrinking the development time for a vaccine.
Bloomberg News, which first reported the existence of the plan to accelerate vaccine delivery, says the government’s goal is to have as many as 300 million vaccine doses by early 2021.
As NPR Science Correspondent Joe Palca has reported, advances in science have revolutionized the speed at which vaccines can be developed.
“In the past it used to take 5-10 years to make a vaccine, and now people are talking about a year or 18 months. So it’s really going faster than expected,” Palca reported on NPR’s Morning Edition this month.
He added that in addition to a vaccine that is safe for people, there are other factors to consider.
“You want one that generates a strong and lasting immune response. You need to be able to manufacture it. Sometimes you come up with a brilliant idea of how to package the virus and you just can’t make it at a scale that would be useful. You want to have a vaccine that doesn’t require special handling,” Palca reports.
During the NBC interview, Fauci was asked whether he is nervous that stay-at-home orders are beginning to lift in many states, including Alabama, Texas and Arizona and Florida — where broad limits expire Thursday night.
The timing coincides with the expiration of White House social distancing guidelines at the end of April.
Fauci declined to give detailed assessments on individual states, but he pointed to White House guidelines for reopening state and local economies, which call for a “downward trajectory” of documented COVID-19 cases over a 14-day period.
Fauci said he expects to see an uptick in coronavirus cases when towns and states reopen for business.
“When you pull back, there will be cases,” Fauci said. “And what we need to do is make sure they have in place the capability of identifying, isolating and contact-tracing individuals.”
While he said he was “cautiously optimistic,” Fauci also said governments must have “the core principles of the guidelines” before reopening.
“You can’t just leap over things and get into a situation where you’re really tempting a rebound. That’s the thing I get concerned about,” Fauci said. “I hope they don’t do that.”