U.S. Officials Offer Conflicting Coronavirus Vaccine Timetables
Top U.S. health officials offered conflicting estimates Wednesday of when Americans should expect coronavirus vaccines to be widely available, with one saying in an interview that every American could be able to get a shot by the end of March.
That timetable, offered by Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at the Department of Health and Human Services, is more ambitious than those of drug company executives, most public health experts and some other top U.S. health officials. It follows comments by President Donald Trump during a televised town hall event hosted by ABC News Tuesday that a vaccine could be approved in three or four weeks.
“We are under contract to get enough doses, and we have line of sight right now into the clinical trials such that we believe” the Food and Drug Administration will approve shots before the end of the year, Mango said in an interview. “The combination of those two will permit us to vaccinate every American before the end of first quarter 2021.”
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, was less optimistic than Mango, in Senate testimony given Wednesday.
“If you’re asking me when is it going to be available to the American public,” Redfield said to a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing, “I think we’re probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021,” which would suggest some time in late spring or summer of next year.
While it’s possible to meet a first-quarter 2021 goal, it’s not likely, said Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in an interview for the Bloomberg Equality Summit to take place on Sept. 23. It’s more likely widespread vaccination will be available later in 2021, he said.
“It would be aspirational to do that,” Fauci said regarding a first-quarter time line. “But I think it’s more toward the middle to the end of the year that you can get people vaccinated. It depends on what the vaccine is.”
Fauci said he is “reasonably confident” that at least one vaccine will be available by November or December. Widescale adoption of a vaccine, along with continuing — though less intense — reliance on social distancing, and mask-wearing, will allow a return to near-normal by the end of 2021, he said.
‘Degree of Normality’
By the end of 2021, Fauci said, “I believe we can approach and perhaps reach a degree of normality that closely resembles what we had before this particular outbreak occurred.”
Public-health experts and drugmakers have expressed alarm that the White House is placing extraordinary pressure on the FDA to clear a vaccine before Trump stands for re-election on Nov. 3. In the interview, Fauci said existing checkpoints for approval, including an independent data and safety monitoring board, exist to prevent interference.
In a telephone interview, Mango said the administration is confident it will have 100 million doses of an effective vaccine for elderly people, who are more vulnerable to the virus, available before the end of the year. He stressed that “there’s never a 100% guarantee” that timelines will be met.
20 Million Doses
If a vaccine is approved in October, only about 20 million doses will be ready for distribution and use, he said.
“Whether that happens in October, November or December is a bit out of our hands,” Mango said, referring to a vaccine approval. “I would say it’s possible, it’s certainly possible, it happens in October. It’s more likely it happens in November or December.”
Earlier this year, the president ordered a program called “Operation Warp Speed” to greatly accelerate development and production of a coronavirus vaccine. The medicines typically require years to develop before they’re approved for sale.
Trump, Mango said, “has assembled an unbelievable team of some of the world’s best scientists, manufacturing experts, logisticians, public health experts. And what we’re doing is maximizing the probability that the American people will have a safe and effective vaccine as quickly as possible.”
— With assistance by Olivia Raimonde
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