Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Thursday that technological advances have sped vaccine development for COVID-19, but the requirements for approval and use remain as stringent as ever. Pool Photo by Graeme Jennings/UPI | License Photo
The turnaround time -- from the emergence of the new coronavirus to the advent of multiple vaccines to prevent it -- has been nothing short of "breathtaking," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading expert on infectious disease.
Still, many Americans are still uncertain about getting a COVID-19 shot.
Speaking on Thursday with HD Live!, Fauci said "it's understandable that people might be concerned when there's something new that's put in front of them." Especially when initial projections had the approval of the first COVID-19 vaccine taking at least 18 months.
But that was then, he said.
"People need to understand that the speed of [vaccine development] is a reflection of the extraordinarily exquisite -- breathtaking in some respects -- advances in science which are allowing us to do things in weeks to months that formerly took years," Fauci explained. "Without compromising safety and without compromising scientific integrity."
Currently, pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have all presented trial data on their respective vaccine candidates that shows each to be highly effective and safe.
In trials involving tens of thousands of volunteers, vaccines from the first two companies have demonstrated about 95% effectiveness in preventing infection -- a rate that exceeded most experts' expectations.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has shown an effectiveness of between 70% to 90%, depending on the regimen used.
'Umbrella of protection'
Despite this good news, poll after poll shows many Americans still distrustful of any vaccine developed in so short a time.
One CNN poll, taken early last month, found just 51% of Americans saying they'd get a COVID-19 vaccine should one arrive.
That's disheartening, since it would take "somewhere between 75% and 80% of the people to get vaccinated in order to get a real umbrella of protection over the community -- the 'community' being the United States of America," Fauci said. "When you get that much protection, the virus really has no place to go."
Fauci, who directs the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, believes many Americans may simply be unaware of the rigorous science involved in vetting a vaccine.
"Perhaps because of the divisiveness in our society, and mixed signals that we might get from Washington," many people still worry about oversight, he said.
Those worries are unfounded, Fauci stressed. That's because the process of vaccine approval has always been kept separate from either the pressures of politicians or the financial incentives of industry.
"There are so many levels of independence and transparency there that people should feel confident -- I do -- that the vaccine is determined to be safe and effective," he said.
'Crushing the outbreak'
First and foremost, he said, Americans need to know that the results of clinical trials into a candidate vaccine are scrutinized by career scientists placed on longstanding committees at both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
At that point, the vaccine maker "is not involved in this -- you separate them so that the Data and Safety Monitoring Board does [its review] independently," Fauci said.
Only after committees from both the FDA and CDC confer and agree on the data would FDA officials decide that "'we're going to do an EUA' -- we are going to have an Emergency Use Authorization," Fauci explained.
As soon as that EUA is issued, another independent expert committee -- this time at the CDC -- "makes a determination of how you are going to distribute the vaccine," he added.
The final and perhaps most crucial step: Convincing hundreds of millions of Americans, and billions elsewhere around the world, to get immunized against COVID-19.
How soon might that process begin?
"We know that we are going to start getting doses of vaccine towards the middle and end of December to the higher-risk groups," Fauci said. "As we get into the first quarter of 2021, January, February, March, more and more people will get vaccinated."
"Hopefully that can get done worldwide so that we globally crush this outbreak," Fauci said.
He said that when his turn comes, "I will take the vaccine. And I certainly will advise my family and friends when their turn comes, to take the vaccine."
Find out more about the search for a coronavirus vaccine at the CDC.
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