Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for the last three decades and an expert on pandemics for the last four decades, has weighed in on news that Russia has developed a vaccine and is ready to start inoculating people with it.
“We have half a dozen or more vaccines, so if we wanted to take the chance of hurting a lot of people or giving them something that doesn’t work we could start doing this, you know, next week if we wanted to, but that’s not the way it works,” Fauci told ABC News in an interview late Tuesday.
“Having a vaccine and proving that a vaccine is safe and effective are two different things,” he told ABC’s DIS, +1.32% Deborah Roberts. He said people need to understand that when they hear announcements from the Chinese or the Russians that we have a vaccine.
“I hope that the Russians have actually, definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective,” Fauci said. “I seriously doubt that they’ve done that.” He added, “We have a way of doing things in this country where we care about safety and we care about efficacy.”
Russian officials have likened the registration of the vaccine to the Cold War-era “Star Wars” space race. In fact, Russian President Vladimir Putin said one of his daughters has already received a dose of the vaccine, which has been named Sputnik-V.
Fauci, meanwhile, has been optimistic on a vaccine arriving at the end of 2020 or in early 2021, but he has also cautioned the public on their expectations for the effectiveness of any vaccine that is developed. Most scientists say it takes at least a year to develop a safe vaccine.
AstraZeneca AZN, -0.36% in combination with Oxford University, BioNTech SE BNTX, -7.43% and partner Pfizer PFE, -1.56%, GlaxoSmithKline GSK, +0.85%, Johnson & Johnson JNJ, -0.71%, Merck & Co. MERK, +1.48%, Moderna MRNA, -4.22%, and Sanofi SAN, +4.03%, among others, are currently working on COVID-19 vaccines.
Fauci previously said he was hopeful that a coronavirus vaccine could be developed by early 2021, but he said that it’s unlikely that a vaccine will deliver 100% immunity; he said the best realistic outcome, based on other vaccines, would be 70% to 75% effective.
“What I’m shooting for is that, with a vaccine and good public-health measures, we can bring it down to somewhere between really good control and elimination,” he told Abdullah Shihipar, a public-health research associate at Brown University in a recent interview.
Previous studies have found that, on average, the flu vaccine is about 50% to 60% effective for healthy adults aged 18 to 64. “The vaccine may sometimes be less effective,” it said. “Even when the vaccine doesn’t completely prevent the flu, it may lessen the severity of your illness.”
Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said last month that the agency would green light a coronavirus vaccine as long as it’s 50% effective. “We all want a vaccine tomorrow, that’s unrealistic,” he said.
The Dow Jones Industrial Index DJIA, -0.37% and S&P 500 SPX, -0.79% closed down Tuesday as investors awaited round two of a fiscal stimulus and more updates on vaccine trials; the Nasdaq Composite’s COMP, -1.69% also ended lower.
In the absence of a vaccine, health experts say social distancing and masks are the only alternative as “herd immunity” — where those who are immune protect the most vulnerable in the population — is not feasible for coronavirus. That requires a very high level of population immunity.