With the U.S. hovering closer to 200,000 coronavirus fatalities, the pressure to develop an effective vaccine grows. But health officials continue to say a widespread vaccine will not be available until mid-2021.
Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper, Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, confirmed that the U.S. is still a long way from a widely-available vaccine.
“A vaccine that would be widely available in hundreds and millions of doses would not likely happen until mid-2021. That is a fact,” he said.
The distribution of just a few million doses of the vaccine, however, could still lead to a marked improvement, Giroir noted.
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“From my perspective, even a few million doses early in November or December, if we have 5 or 10 percent of the population that we can vaccinate, we can get 80 or 90 percent of the benefit,” he continued.
This benefit would come in the form of a reduced mortality rate. Vulnerable populations like frontline workers are expected to be the first demographic to receive the initial doses of an approved vaccine. Giroir says that vaccinating workers such as nursing home employees will prevent the virus from spreading to vulnerable elderly patients.
By vaccinating employees in contact with vulnerable demographics who are likely to suffer severe COVID-19 infections, the U.S. can hopefully stem outbreaks and fatalities. Teachers and people with preexisting conditions are also likely to receive some of the first vaccine doses to help curb transmission.
“A vaccine as early as possible, even in a few million doses, will be a godsend in terms of outcomes—hospitalizations, morbidities, and deaths,” he said.
The timeline of an available and effective COVID-19 vaccine has been tainted with fears of political pressure being exerted to prematurely approve a vaccine for market, thereby potentially compromising the safety of the potential treatment.
This concern has caused health officials and even pharmaceutical manufacturers to reassure the U.S. public that a vaccine will not be approved and distributed until it has gone through all clinical trials and is proven to be safe and efficacious.
Giroir addressed this topic, reaffirming that only science will determine when a vaccine is released.
“The availability of a vaccine depends on one thing only, and that is the evidence and the science,” he said. “We have to wait until the trials demonstrate that a vaccine is safe and effective. There are all kinds of safeguards to make sure that this is an independent, scientifically-based decision.”
Giroir also confirmed that as of now, there is no clear vaccine candidate ready to be approved. Whether or not a vaccine will be approved for distribution is entirely dependent on the study.
“We have to let the evidence and the data drive it,” he said.
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