A huge international study of a COVID-19 vaccine that aims to work with just one dose is getting underway as top US health official Dr. Anthony Fauci sought Wednesday to assure a skeptical Congress and public that they can trust any shots the government ultimately approves.
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Hopes are high that answers about at least one of several candidates being tested in the US could come by year’s end, maybe sooner.
“We feel cautiously optimistic that we will be able to have a safe and effective vaccine, although there is never a guarantee of that,” Dr. Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, told a Senate committee.
President Donald Trump is pushing for a faster timeline, which many experts say is risky and may not allow for adequate testing.
On Wednesday he tweeted a link to news about the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine study and said the Food and Drug Administration “must move quickly!”
Vaccine development usually takes years but scientists have been racing to shorten that time, in part by manufacturing doses that will have to be thrown away if studies find they don’t work.
A vaccine “will go a giant step” in controlling infection, but Fauci warned people still will need to take those precautions for a while after the first vaccine arrives because it won’t change conditions overnight.
Why? It’s unusual for a vaccine to be 100 percent effective. There won’t be enough at first for everyone, and even once there is, it will take months to get the shots into the arms of every American who wants one — an effort CDC’s Redfield sees stretching into June or July.
A handful of vaccines already are in final testing in the US and other countries. In one of the largest studies yet, Johnson & Johnson aims to enroll 60,000 volunteers to test its single-dose approach in the US, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. Other candidates in the US require two shots.
J&J’s vaccine is made with slightly different technology than others in late-stage testing, modeled on an Ebola vaccine the company created.
Final-stage testing of one experimental vaccine, made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, remains on hold in the US as officials examine whether it poses a safety risk.
As for the testing of vaccine candidates, Fauci added: “There is no cutting corners.”
More than 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 so far this year, and in many states, infections still are climbing. The US is confirming an average of 41,968 new daily cases, up 13 percent compared with the average two weeks ago.