It is “conceivable” that the U.S. could begin to roll out a coronavirus vaccine by December, the White House’s top infectious disease expert said Friday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted in January that a vaccine could be ready in 12 to 18 months. In an NPR interview Friday, he said the “schedule is still intact” but cautioned that there could be obstacles and any timeline is “never a promise.”
“I think it is conceivable, if we don’t run into things that are, as they say, unanticipated setbacks, that we could have a vaccine that we could be beginning to deploy at the end of this calendar year, December 2020, or into January, 2021,” he said on “Morning Edition.”
“When you’re dealing with vaccines there could be so many things that get in the way like it might not be entirely effective,” he added. “And you wouldn’t want to deploy a vaccine that’s not effective and certainly not one that’s not safe.”
Fauci’s remarks came four days after U.S. biotech company Moderna published some positive data from its phase one human trial on its potential vaccine. The National Institutes of Health has partnered with Moderna to accelerate development of a vaccine.
STAT News doused some of the optimism around the vaccine after reporting that researchers said the released data was incomplete. Fauci described it Friday as “partial data.”
He said scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, where he serves as director, are compiling the full data for submission to a peer-reviewed journal in a “couple of weeks.” He said the potential vaccine is on “an accelerated pace” but added that researchers are not compromising safety or care.
Because of the crisis, researchers are accelerating development of the vaccine candidate by simultaneously investing in multiple stages of research even though doing so could be for naught if the vaccine ends up not being effective or safe, Fauci said.
“The risk is not to the patient because the safety and the scientific integrity is intact,” he said. “The risk is to the investment and we feel that it’s important enough to make those investments in order to save months.”
Last month, the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority awarded Moderna up to $483 million in funding to accelerate development of the Covid-19 vaccine candidate.
Earlier this month, Moderna announced a 10-year partnership with Swiss drugmaker Lonza to accelerate production of the experimental vaccine. Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel told CNBC at the time that the company hopes to begin manufacturing its potential vaccine “as early as July.”
The potential vaccine was the first candidate to enter a phase one human trial in March. More than 100 vaccines were in development globally as of April 30, according to the World Health Organization, with at least eight in human trials.
—CNBC’s Berkeley Lovelace contributed to this report.