COVID-19 Vaccine By January Is 'Doable', Fauci Says

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Coronavirus COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Donald Trump
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks as U.S. President Donald Trump looks on during a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic, in the press briefing room of the White House on March 24, 2020 in Washington, DC. Cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the United States, with New York's case count doubling every three days according to Governor Andrew Cuomo. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The heated "Great Vaccine Race" among 89 biotech and pharma firms worldwide now has the United Kingdom saying it will know by July if its COVID-19 vaccine is effective. In the United States, Johnson & Johnson reiterates human testing of its COVID-19 vaccine might be ready for emergency use by early 2021.

Whichever company or country "wins" this race, the imperative now is to get a vaccine into production as soon as is safely possible. This might even mean a company or a consortium beginning production of a promising candidate vaccine even before the end of human clinical trials in the interest of saving lives.

The need to save lives is now more urgent than ever considering the 1.09 million confirmed cases in the U.S. and 63,827 deaths, as of 7:18 p.m. ET Thursday, based on Worldometer data. There are 3.3 million cases globally and 233,813 deaths.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), believes companies should accelerate development of this much-needed vaccine to get it to market faster.

"If so, we're going to start ramping up production with the companies involved, and you do that at risk,'' Dr. Fauci told Today. "In other words, you don't wait until you get an answer before you start manufacturing. You, at risk, proactively start making it, assuming that it's gonna work. And if it does, then you can scale up and hopefully and get to that timeline."

Accelerating development, testing and production might mean the U.S. could have a viable coronavirus vaccine by January 2021, surmises Dr. Fauci. This acceleration isn't out of the question, he pointed out.

What's important is the federal government finding out a way to determine if a vaccine is effective before beginning to manufacture hundreds of millions of doses. This will speed-up the development process that sometimes took more than a decade in the 20th century.

Asked if he thought it was "in the realm of possibility" to have a potential vaccine ready for wide distribution by January, Dr. Fauci said "yes" but with caveats.

"I do," answered Dr. Fauci. "I mean, I'm obviously part of the team that's involved in that."

"We want to go quickly, but we want to make sure it's safe and it's effective," said Dr. Fauci. "I think that is doable if things fall in the right place."

There are currently 89 candidate vaccines for COVID-19 in clinical and pre-clinical evaluation worldwide. Seven are in clinical evaluation (meaning human trials), while 82 candidate vaccines are in the pre-clinical stage.

“I’d say the 12 to 18 months that’s been bandied about by some experts is realistic, but it’s (also) optimistic,” said Dr. James Cutrell, director of the infectious disease fellowship program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “It is based on the assumption that each phase of trials goes according to plan, with an optimistic time frame at each of those stages.”

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