‘Help is coming — and it’s coming soon’: Dr. Fauci outlines when COVID-19 vaccine will be available to all Americans

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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.’— Dr. Anthony Fauci

On Monday, 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.”

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.

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 new 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.

Related: Joe Biden’s pandemic plan

“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 Thursday, the U.S. had reported 10.5 million COVID-19 infections and 242,577 deaths, just ahead of India (8.7 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 140,000 on Wednesday, a new daily record and ninth 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 announcement, 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.

In addition to BioNTech SE BNTX, -7.14% and partner Pfizer PFE, -2.46%, AstraZeneca AZN, -2.03%, in combination with Oxford University; Johnson & Johnson JNJ, +0.33% ; Merck & Co. MERK, ; Moderna MRNA, +6.51% ; Sanofi SAN, -0.36% ; and GlaxoSmithKline GSK, -2.38% are among those also working toward COVID-19 vaccines.

“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.”

The vaccine will need to be kept in freezing temperatures for distribution and will require two doses, and it’s not yet clear how long it will last.

But Fauci said that was not unexpected. “It’s a challenge that was anticipated,” he said. “That was part of the ‘Warp Speed’ agenda.”

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.

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