Dr. Fauci says coronavirus vaccine likely won’t be ‘widely’ available until months into 2021

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington DC on June 30, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Kevin Dietsch | AFP via Getty Images

White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday that a coronavirus vaccine likely won’t be “widely available” to the American public until “several months” into 2021.

Public health officials and scientists expect to know whether at least one of the numerous potential Covid-19 vaccines in development is safe and effective by the end of December or early next year, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said during a live Q&A with the Washington Post. 

“It is likely that at the beginning of next year we would have tens of millions of doses available,” Fauci said, adding that some drugmakers have predicted more doses than that. “I think as we get into 2021, several months in, that you would have vaccines that would be widely available.”

Health officials say there is no returning to “normal” until there is a vaccine. There are no FDA-approved drugs or vaccines for the coronavirus, which has infected more than 15 million people worldwide and killed at least 633,656 as of Friday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. More than 150 potential vaccines are being developed worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, with at least 25 already in human trials. Biotech firm Moderna, which is working with the National Institutes of Health, published promising data on its potential vaccine last week and is expected to enter a late-stage trial next week. 

Though scientists expect to have an effective vaccine widely available by next year, there is never a guarantee. While drugmakers are racing to make millions of doses of vaccines, there’s a chance the vaccine will require two doses rather than one, potentially further limiting the number of people who can get vaccinated once a vaccine becomes available, experts say.

Additionally,  scientists say that questions remain about how the human body responds once it’s been infected with the virus. The answers, they say, may have important implications for vaccine development, including how quickly it can be deployed to the public.

One critical question among scientists is whether antibodies produced in response to Covid-19 offer protection against getting infected again.

Scientists hope the antibodies provide some degree of protection against getting Covid-19, but they can’t say that definitively yet since the virus was discovered just six months ago. It hasn’t been studied in depth and some patients appear to have been reinfected after recovering from Covid-19.

A recent study published in Nature Medicine found coronavirus antibodies may last only two to three months after a person becomes infected with Covid-19. Researchers examined 37 asymptomatic people who were infected but never developed symptoms in the Wanzhou district of China. They compared their antibody response to that of 37 people with symptoms. 

Fauci addressed antibodies on Friday, saying that is an area where “we need to get more information.” Besides antibodies, there may be other aspects of the immune response, like T cells,  that may play a role in protection against the virus, he added.

“We are only six months into the outbreak,” he said. “Since we are only six months into it, we don’t know how long [antibodies] last in most of the people. But the fact is … that there are some people where antibodies only last a short period of time. We need to know what that means.”

“Again, we are learning as the weeks and months go by, but we don’t have all the information that we need,” he said. 

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