Anthony Fauci, a top infectious disease expert in the United States, has said he was “cautiously optimistic” that a vaccine for novel Coronavirus would be a “reality” by the end of this year, or “as we go into 2021”.
But he also seemed to cast doubts over vaccines being developed in Russia and China, at least one of which is planned to be approved within the next two weeks.
Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US, was testifying before a panel of American lawmakers.
“I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing the vaccines before they are administering the vaccine to anyone. Because claims of having a vaccine ready to distribute before you do testing is problematic at the very least,” Fauci said.
His remarks could be in reference to recent claims by Russia that a vaccine being developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya institute would be approved by August 10, and would be available in market for public use by September. This vaccine is still in phase-II trials which began in the second week of July. Russia plans to approve the vaccine even before the phase-III trials, which it plans to carry out after it is made available for use. In phase-III, a candidate vaccine is tested on thousands of volunteers for an extended period of time in real-life situations to assess whether it is actually able to prevent an infection. Phase-I and phase-II trials are to check whether the candidate is safe for humans, and whether it induces immune response.
Also read | Why are so many vaccines being developed?
In China, one vaccine has already been approved for limited use after the phase-II trials. This is being administered only to military personnel for the time being. At least seven Chinese candidates are currently being tested on human beings.
Fauci said he did not believe that some other countries would be able to develop a vaccine so far ahead of the ones being developed in the US that the United States would have to get the vaccines from other countries. It is in this context he said that at least one of the vaccines being developed in the United States would become a reality by the end of this year or early next year.
“There’s never a guarantee that you are going to get a safe and effective vaccine, but from everything we have seen now, in the animal data, as well as early human data, we feel cautiously optimistic that we will have a vaccine by the end of this year and as we go into 2021,” he said.
Fauci said concerns that a Coronavirus vaccine was being rushed through were unfounded.
“I know to some people this seems like this is so fast that there might be compromising of safety and scientific integrity. And I can tell you that is absolutely not the case. The rapidity with which we are doing it is a result of very different technologies in getting from the time we recognised this pathogen in the beginning of January to the time we were able to get into phase-I trials, till the time we were able to do phase-II, till the time, as I just mentioned, just this past Monday (July 27) when we started phase-III (Moderna vaccine). That was not reckless rushing. That was technology and doing things in a way that does not compromise any of the steps,” he said.
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US to buy 100 million doses of Sanofi-GlaxoSmithKline vaccine
In the biggest such deal so far, the United States is paying French drugmaker Sanofi, and its British partner GlaxoSmithKline, up to US$ 2.1 billion for buying 100 million doses of a vaccine that the two pharma giants are jointly developing.
This vaccine candidate is still in the pre-clinical stages, meaning it is being tested on animals right now. Developers hope to begin the human trials from September. The money from the United States will fund the clinical trials as well as the manufacture of the vaccine. If it successful, the vaccine would be made available to the United States at no additional cost, except what would be charged for administering it, according to a report in the New York Times.
The United States has entered into similar deals with some of the other developers of vaccines, but none as big as this. It is paying US$ 1.2 billion to Oxford University and AstraZeneca for procuring 300 million doses of a vaccine which has just entered into phase-III human trials. It has also decided to pay Novavax, another vaccine developer, US$ 1.6 billion for 100 million doses. The money would be used by the companies to fund their human trials and other expenses.
An agreement of similar amount also exists with Pfizer and German firm BioNTech, which are together developing a vaccine that has also just entered phase-III human trials.
The story so far
- More than 160 vaccine candidates in pre-clinical or clinical trials
- 23 of them in clinical trials
- Six in final stages, phase-III of human trials
- At least eight candidate vaccines being developed in India. Two of these have entered phase-I human trials.
Also read | Clinical trials of Russian vaccine over
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