Despite presidential transition, Fauci confident vaccine progress will not slow down

Dr. Anthony Fauci talks about next steps in getting the coronavirus vaccine to the public

Infectious disease experts have been expressing their excitement over two prospective coronavirus vaccines with over 90% effectiveness, and Dr. Anthony Fauci told WTOP that review of the data is going full speed ahead during the presidential transition.

“Well, obviously, everyone wants there to be a smooth transition, in the sense of interacting with the group, who are our counterparts … coming in,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The top U.S. infectious disease expert said that “things are not going to be slowing down.”

Fauci said the information on the vaccine is being presented to the Food and Drug Administration, which will evaluate it for the purpose of determining whether to issue an emergency use authorization.

“I have every reason to believe that they will do that, and they will do that expeditiously. So that is not going to get slowed down,” Fauci said.

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Vanderbilt University infectious disease expert Dr. William Schaffner said that after the FDA’s review, the vaccines will progress to an external “very tough” advisory committee that will review and then make a recommendation to the FDA.

“Everything going well, they will get that emergency use authorization,” Schaffner told WTOP.

The vaccine then passes down to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which will say which patients or which part of the population should get the vaccine first and who should get it next.

“And these committees are all poised to do their jobs per routine in a rigorous way,” Schaffner said.

In the meantime, Fauci said that between now and when the vaccine becomes readily available, people should double down on the public health measures, including wearing facial coverings and social distancing.

“Help is on the way. This is an important addition to our armamentarium of being able to control this virus, so now’s not the time to let up our guard,” Fauci said.

Moderna Inc. said that its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective, according to preliminary data, while Pfizer Inc. said its own vaccine looked to be 90% effective.

U.S. officials said they hope to have about 20 million Moderna doses and another 20 million of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech to use in late December, The Associated Press reported.

The Pfizer vaccine must be kept at ultracold temperatures — around minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Moderna said its vaccine can be thawed and kept in a refrigerator for 30 days.

Schaffner said that having a vaccine that can be refrigerated means it can be distributed to doctor’s offices, clinics and pharmacies.

“We can bring the vaccine close to the people, rather than having to organize the people to bring them close to the vaccine. It would really allow much more widespread distribution to the vaccine,” Schaffner said.

Fauci said it’s a “very good thing” that there is more than one possible vaccine, and he anticipates that in the coming months, there may be other vaccines with promising reports.

“There may be vaccines that might be better suited, for example, to the elderly versus the younger people, people with underlying conditions, all of those recommendations will come through,” Fauci said.

With more than one in consideration, Fauci said, “we might be able to start vaccinating the highest-risk individuals sometime before the end of the year, in late December. And then, as we get into January, February and March. That’s very good news.”

Reports of increasing coronavirus infections are being reported across the U.S., including Maryland, Virginia and D.C., leading to a rollback of several coronavirus provisions.

With news of the vaccines, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose to a record Monday for the first time in nine months, The Associated Press reported.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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