Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the leading government expert in infectious diseases for the past 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 pre-existing 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.’ ”
“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.”
This week, 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.”
Health professionals say the news has come not a moment too soon: The U.S. has recorded more than 1 million COVID-19 cases in 10 days. The vaccine will need to be kept in freezing temperatures for distribution and will require two doses. But Fauci told CNN that was not unexpected. “It’s a challenge that was anticipated,” he said. “That was part of the ‘Warp Speed’ agenda.”
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.
Still, analysts and health professionals also provide some sobering thoughts. For one, there is as yet not details about how the companies’ much-anticipated vaccine performed in different vulnerable patient populations, including the elderly and those with co-morbidities such as diabetes or hypertension, and there are still questions about how long immunity to the virus lasts,
Related: Joe Biden’s pandemic plan
Some 60% of people said they are willing to take a vaccine if and when it’s released if they can reduce their chance of infection by half, according to a survey by STAT News and the Harris Poll. What’s more, almost two-thirds said they would take a vaccine if it reduced their risk of contracting the coronavirus by 75%.The online survey was taken by 1,954 online between Oct. 29 and Oct. 31.
“If we’re actually at 90%, it’s going to reinforce for two-thirds of Americans who are then much more likely to take the vaccine, although I think it’s fair to say that it doesn’t need to be 90% effective to get that pull through,” Rob Jekielek, managing director of the Harris Poll, told STAT. However, younger people are less likely to say they’ll get the vaccine than older Americans.
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 Saturday, the U.S. had reported 10.9 million COVID-19 infections and 245,453 coronavirus-related deaths, just ahead of India (nearly 8.8 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 180,000 on Friday, a new daily record and 10th 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 news, 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.
On Friday, President Donald Trump said that “time will tell’ if he stays in power, despite Joe Biden winning both the popular and electoral vote in the presidential election, and he threatened to withhold a coronavirus vaccine, if/when it becomes available, from New York.
“Whatever happens in the future, who knows which administration it will be — I guess time will tell, but I can tell you this administration will not go to a lockdown,” Trump said at the White House’s Rose Garden, speaking about the “Operation Warp Speed” public-private partnership that aims to accelerate development of a COVID-19 vaccine. He didn’t respond to reporters’ shouted questions about conceding the election.
In addition to BioNTech SE BNTX,
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine collaboration did not receive public funding under the Trump administration’s so-called Operation Warp Speed program, though an advance order was placed through that program in the event that the vaccine wins regulatory approval. Moderna and AstraZeneca did, the New York Times notes, accept Operation Warp Speed funds.