Most people likely won’t get immunized with a Covid vaccine until the middle of 2021, U.S. officials and public health experts say, even as the federal government asks states to prepare to distribute a vaccine as soon as November.
U.S. health officials expect to know whether at least one of the three potential vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca in late-stage testing works by the end of the year or sooner. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Thursday the company could have results from its late-stage coronavirus vaccine trial as early as October.
Whichever vaccine wins regulatory authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, it will likely be in short supply once it’s cleared for public distribution, officials and experts warn. The vaccine will likely require two doses at varying intervals, and states still face logistical challenges such as setting up distribution sites and acquiring enough needles, syringes and bottles needed for immunizations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently asking states to expedite the approval process for medical supply company McKesson so it can set up coronavirus vaccination sites across the U.S. by Nov. 1. The agency said states may need to waive some licensing and permit requirements that could bog down the process.
Still, a vaccine ready for public distribution in November is “extremely unlikely,” Dr. Moncef Slaoui, who is leading the Trump administration’s Operation War Speed initiative, said in an interview with NPR that published Thursday evening.
“There is a very, very low chance that the trials that are running as we speak” could be ready before the end of October, he told NPR. “And therefore, there could be — if all other conditions required for an Emergency Use Authorization are met — an approval. I think it’s extremely unlikely but not impossible.”
He said he “firmly” believes a vaccine will be available before the end of the year and “in quantities that can immunize patients at the highest risk, which means very old people, 70 years and older, and maybe people that are highly exposed on the first line.”
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA Commissioner, said broad distribution of a coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. is likely “a 2021 event.” He said the vaccine will likely be authorized by the FDA in stages where “incremental groups are getting access to the vaccine through the end of this year, assuming that they work and that they’re demonstrated to be safe and effective.”
On Tuesday, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a draft proposal for distributing a vaccine in the U.S. if and when one is approved for public use. The report was requested by the National Institutes of Health and the CDC.
The vaccine would be distributed in four phases, with health-care workers, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, getting vaccinated first, according to the group. Essential workers, teachers and people in homeless shelters as well as people in prisions would be next on the list, followed by children and young adults.
The CDC estimates there are between 17 million and 20 million health-care workers in the U.S. alone, almost the entire amount of vaccine doses the U.S. expects to have by the end of the year, according Slaoui, who told NPR the U.S. should be able to immunize up to 25 million people by the end of the year.