Dr. Anthony Fauci downplayed concerns about the safety of a COVID-19 vaccine during a conversation Tuesday at the 2020 Texas Tribune Festival.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leader in the U.S. response to the novel coronavirus, said Americans should feel confident in the development and efficacy of a vaccine. This comes as a growing majority of people say they are not likely to be immunized as soon as a vaccine is available.
It’s “disturbing” that so many people are reticent to get a vaccine, he said, blaming “mixed messages that have come out of Washington” for waning public trust.
Some public officials, including President Donald Trump, have questioned the credibility of agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration during the pandemic.
Others have viewed Trump’s forecast that a vaccine could be ready by Election Day as politically motivated and expressed fears that the president might sidestep the regulatory process.
Fauci stressed that officials must reach out to their communities to “regain the confidence ... that this is being done to protect them as individuals and to protect our society.”
To reach herd immunity — the point at which enough people are immune to a disease that it doesn’t spread — the community must meet a certain threshold either through vaccination or from previously contracting the virus. Experts worry that if enough people refuse a vaccine, the coronavirus will continue to spread.
Fauci said five companies have vaccines that are in advanced clinical trials, nearing the final step before seeking FDA approval.
Two companies, Moderna and Pfizer, are the furthest ahead and have shown early promising results. Moderna appears set to deliver a report to regulators by November. Pfizer, which has already begun to manufacture its vaccine so doses will be ready should it win FDA approval, could deliver its report by the end of October.
The data from each trial and at each stage is closely guarded and shared only with an independent board of scientists, statisticians and clinicians. The board decides whether a potential vaccine shows promise and should advance to the next stage.
“I feel cautiously optimistic, as a scientist, that we will have a safe and effective vaccine,” Fauci said. “I believe it will happen, and it will happen likely by this end of the calendar year.”
Even if a vaccine is ready by the year’s end, it likely will not be widely available until late 2021, experts say, because of the massive logistical challenges that come with distributing hundreds of millions of doses to every corner of the country. The first people likely to receive a vaccine are health care workers and those most at risk of contracting the virus, such as older people and those with preexisting conditions.