The nation’s top infectious disease expert said Friday that an aggressive investment into the development and production of a vaccine against the coronavirus might make it possible to distribute millions of doses as the year comes to a close.
In an interview with The Hill, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), urged caution and said the rapid development of a safe and effective vaccine was not guaranteed.
But he said the government was taking the unprecedented step of beginning production on promising vaccine candidates even before they are proven, a financial risk that would shave months off a typical development schedule.
“In the standard way you develop a vaccine, you do not make major investments in the next step until you are fairly sure that the prior step works and you are satisfied with it,” he said.
“If you jump ahead and at least prepare and make investments, for example preparing sites for trial and even beginning to produce vaccine before you even know it’s safe and effective, then you’re taking a risk, and the risk is a financial risk, it’s not a safety risk,” Fauci said.
“If you do that, you can cut down by several months the process of getting vaccines available as opposed to waiting until you’re fairly sure everything works and then beginning for example manufacturing the doses,” he said.
Fauci did add a note of caution: Vaccine candidates, even promising ones, fail more often than they succeed.
The number of “shots on goal,” Fauci’s preferred metaphor, is meant to boost the odds of developing a vaccine that works, and lasts.
“Any time you develop a vaccine, you always remember, you always have a question that you may not get an effective vaccine. Even if you do everything right and you do everything on time, there’s no guarantee you’re going to have an effective vaccine. So when we talk about having a vaccine that might be available in December or January, that’s assuming that the vaccine is actually effective,” he said.fauci
More than 100 potential vaccine candidates are being tested in laboratories around the globe. The federal government has identified a handful it sees as the most promising, and it plans to invest in producing those vaccines as phase three trials begin in the coming weeks and months.
Fauci said he was “fairly certain” that if production is started this summer and ramped up, “you could have 100 million doses by the end of the year and maybe a couple of hundred million doses by the beginning of next year.”
“I mean that’s aspirational,” he said. “The companies think that they can do that with the right financial backing.”