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The top U.S. infectious disease specialist called the coronavirus pandemic his “worst nightmare” and warned that the deadly outbreak is far from over.
In just a few months, COVID-19 has devastated countries around the world, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday in online comments to the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, an industry group.
Societies, businesses and economies have all suffered as people have sequestered themselves to prevent the spread of the virus and inundation of health systems with severely ill patients. Now that some nations and states are emerging from lockdowns, there’s still a risk that the virus will also return, Fauci said.
The infection won’t “burn itself out with mere public health measures,” he said. “We’re going to need a vaccine for the entire world, billions and billions of doses.”
The U.S. federal government is planning to fund and undertake large-scale studies of three experimental coronavirus vaccines starting this summer, Dow Jones reported, citing an interview with John Mascola, director of the vaccine research center at NIAID.
Moderna Inc.’s final-stage trial is expected to start in July, followed by a test of Oxford University and AstraZeneca PLC’s shot in August. Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that it has accelerated its schedule, with the first human trial now set to begin in the second half of July, instead of the previous schedule for starting trials in September. The trial will include 1,045 healthy adults and will be conducted in the U.S. and Belgium.
With small studies already underway and definitive trials on the verge of starting, it may be possible for some high-risk people to get access to the immunizations under expedited policies from regulators before the end of the year. If the initial signs suggest the injections can protect against infection and no signs of harm emerge, public health officials believe it may be possible to start vaccinating larger groups of people, including health-care workers, by early next year.
Ultimately, even if vaccines work well in trials, the big challenge will be producing and distributing enough of the shots to meet demand from around the world.
Fauci, the head of the infectious disease agency since 1984, has emerged early on as one of the leading voices in the battle by President Donald Trump’s administration against the pandemic. His statements have sometime run counter to the president’s on topics such as when and whether restrictions should be eased, and he and the White House virus task force have recently been sidelined with fewer appearances before the media.
The U.S. has more coronavirus cases than any other country, with about 2 million, and leads the world in pandemic deaths with more than 112,000. Meanwhile, as states such as New Jersey lift stay-at-home orders, Trump has cheered the revival of U.S. employment numbers and stock-market gains.
More than 130 vaccines are in development against the coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization.
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