‘Even Better Than We Thought’

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Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci voiced optimism Friday about the initial results of a coronavirus vaccine trial.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also said it remains possible a vaccine against the virus could be available by the end of 2020.

Moderna Inc. announced promising results this week regarding early testing of a COVID-19 vaccine. The company said the vaccine appeared safe and able to ward off the virus, though detailed results have yet to be published.

“Having looked at the data myself, it is really quite promising,” Fauci, who expressed “cautious optimism” regarding the results, told NPR.

“The vaccine induced what we call neutralizing antibodies, as opposed to just binding antibodies, and neutralizing antibodies are antibodies that actually can block the virus,” the infectious disease expert added.

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The results from the trial were “even better than we thought,” he said, “and they did it at a moderate dose of the vaccine.”

The next step is for the full results to be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. That’s likely to take place in the next few weeks, Fauci said.

Barring speed bumps in the process, a coronavirus vaccine could be available within months. That’s far shorter than the years-long process normally needed to create a vaccine, according to NPR.

“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,” Fauci said.

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“That’s never a promise,” he added, “because when you’re dealing with vaccines, there could be so many things that get in the way.”

Many companies are trying to develop a coronavirus vaccine, and because of the anticipated demand, vaccine production is beginning as testing moves forward.

Fauci said that taking the fast lane, instead of waiting to begin production until after testing is done, is “not compromising in any way the safety or the scientific integrity.”

“What we’re doing right now, and this is something that I think is going to be characteristic of multiple of the candidates that are being tested for a coronavirus vaccine, is that you even start investing and even making doses of the vaccine before you are completely sure that it works. So the risk is not to the patients, because the safety and the scientific integrity is intact,” he said. “The risk is to the investment.”

Fauci’s perspective was echoed by Dr. Carlos del Rio, an Emory University professor of medicine who is part of the Moderna team developing the vaccine.

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“I am cautiously optimistic,” del Rio told CNBC.

“We are developing at a pace that has never been done before,” he said.

“Trying to think that, a year after a virus has been identified, we will have a vaccine ready to deploy and ready to go into massive distribution, it’s simply mind-boggling to me,” del Rio added. “I have to be a little cautious and say I hope it happens, but I don’t want to be — I want to make sure we do it the right way.”

Fauci said a second wave of cases is coming.

“The one thing I’m sure of is that there will be infections around in the fall and in the winter, because it’s not going to disappear from the planet,” he told NPR.

But the damage from that wave is uncertain, he said.

“It isn’t inevitable that we’re going to have a massive rebound,” Fauci said. “What is inevitable is that we will see cases. It’s how we deal with it that’s going to be the endgame.”

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