WASHINGTON, July 2 (UPI) -- Top U.S. health officials told lawmakers Thursday they're pursuing multiple technologies to develop a COVID-19 vaccine that could cut months off the normal time it takes to get it to market.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins testified before a subcommittee of the Senate appropriations committee. At the hearing, they said it's worth it to assume greater risk with a vaccine to make it available sooner, due to the scope of the pandemic.
Collins said speed will not compromise safety, and that researchers are taking advantage of other areas to streamline to process. That means "throwing out" potential treatments during an advanced manufacturing stage if scientists learn they aren't effective -- an interruption that's not normally done during such a process.
Collins said he and the Operation Warp Speed team are "very optimistic" a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready by the end of this year and 300 million doses will be available by early 2021.
The officials told the panel a vaccine is not typically manufactured en mass until after approval from the Food and Drug Administration, a protocol that takes months. By manufacturing promising vaccines "at risk" now, those proven more effective can be ready to distribute almost immediately.
Gary Disbrow, acting director of the Health and Human Service Department's Biomedical Advance Research and Development Authority, said researchers are presently looking at several possible options, but said there will be false starts.
"We're investing in a diverse array of technologies, different technologies because we're uncertain which vaccine technology may produce a safe and effective vaccine," he said. "We're ... manufacturing at risk. This is a [financial] risk we have to take."
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the health subcommittee, endorsed the approach.
"Frankly, if we don't lose some money, we didn't try hard enough," he said. "If you choose six vaccines and they all make it, I think the question will be, why didn't you choose eight vaccines?"
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., asked whether sports -- including pro and college football -- will return in the fall. Collins answered that he expects there will be a fall season, and the NIH plans to have enhanced COVID-19 testing that can give results within an hour. He stated a goal of providing an additional 1 million tests per day by September.
"The best is to have your gadget right there, at the front desk when somebody shows up for practice. And find, 'is this person somebody who's safe to send to the field," Collins said.
Redfield called COVID-19 the most significant public health challenge the United States has faced in more than a century. Wearing face coverings, social distancing and hygiene, he added, are the most effective weapons that are available now, short of a vaccine.
The CDC chief added that his agency already has the infrastructure needed to quickly distribute a vaccine, once one becomes ready.
"Each year, the CDC safely distributes vaccines from manufacturers to nearly 40,000 public and private health providers across the nation," he said "And in a typical year, we provide vaccines for more than 80 million individuals.
"During an emergency, this system has the ability to scale and capacity to manage and distribute up to 900 million vaccine doses."