The U.S. government plans to stockpile hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines that are under development to combat the novel coronavirus, with the goal of having one or more vaccines ready to deploy by the end of the year, the country’s health secretary said on Friday.
“We’ve got over 100 vaccine candidates that have been discovered,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Fox Business Network.
“What we’re doing now is we’re narrowing those down to the core group that we’re going to place huge multi-hundred-million-dollar bets on and scale massive vaccine domestic production so that we, by the end of the year, we hope, would have one or more safe and effective vaccines and hundreds of millions of doses.”
The White House has set a target of having 300 million vaccine doses by the end of 2020.
Azar said the administration was using “the full power of the U.S. government and the private sector here to compress all of those [drug trial] timelines.”
However, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases, said in Senate testimony on Tuesday the idea that there will be a vaccine available by the fall, when schools and universities resume classes, was “a bridge too far.”
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In terms of distribution, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview earlier this week that he hoped that any vaccine developed would be shared worldwide.
“I hope that we will all collectively find a way to produce this at high volume to get it all across the world and make sure that every citizen that needs access to a vaccine can get it as quickly as possible,” the top U.S. diplomat told Israel’s Kan 11 News during a trip there.
Minor row in France over U.S. access
Scientists are rushing to find treatments and vaccines for a disease that has killed over 300,000 people worldwide, including nearly 86,000 in the United States and over 5,570 in Canada as of early Friday. Even as nations grapple with the ongoing pandemic, experts are weighing the impact any potential vaccine may have on a disease that has already laid bare the world’s inequities and power struggles.
“A vaccine against COVID-19 should be a public good for the world,” French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Thursday, noting that “equal access of all” was “non-negotiable.”
Philippe was speaking after CEO Paul Hudson of Paris-based pharmaceuticals giant Sanofi told Bloomberg News on Wednesday: “The U.S. government has the right to the largest preorder because it’s invested in taking the risk.”
He apologized on Thursday, saying it was vital that any coronavirus vaccine reach all regions.
Hudson, who will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron next week, has been critical of Europe’s capacity to develop and manufacture a vaccine for months. He has called for a European version of the U.S. agency that is helping Sanofi develop its vaccine.
Sanofi is working on two vaccines projects, one with British rival GlaxoSmithKline Plc that has received financial support from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) of the U.S. Health Department, and another with U.S. company Translate Bio that will use different technology.
World leaders in April pledged to accelerate their work on COVID-19, the disease caused by the highly contagious novel coronavirus, but the United States did not participate.
The Trump administration also ignored a pledge last week by world leaders and organizations to spend $8 billion US to manufacture and distribute a possible vaccine and treatments.
Chinese company CanSino Biologics is already conducting human clinical trials for its potential COVID-19 vaccine. The National Research Council of Canada said this week it is working with CanSino to try to develop it more quickly.
There is still no vaccine for HIV, which emerged in the early 1980s, or SARS, a coronavirus that hit Asia in 2002.
In addition to supply, there are questions about price, but one expert said Friday the huge scale will help keep costs down and supply up.
Adrian Hill, director of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, which has teamed up with the drugmaker AstraZeneca to develop a vaccine, said ensuring wide distribution and low cost have been central to the project from the start.
“This is not going to be an expensive vaccine,” Hill told Reuters in an interview. “It’s going to be a single dose vaccine. It’s going to be made for global supply and it’s going to be made in many different locations. That was always our plan.”
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U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said he believed there would be a vaccine by the end of the year, without offering evidence to support the optimistic outlook. The administration has dubbed its vaccine effort “Operation Warp Speed.”
“I think we’re going to have a vaccine by the end of the year and I think distribution will take place almost simultaneously because we’ve geared up the military,” he told reporters at the White House, saying that more details were expected on Friday.
Trump, who faces re-election in November after winning in 2016 on an “America First” agenda, has urged a quick reopening of the U.S. economy despite the lack of approved treatment, vaccine or widespread testing.
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Dr. Rick Bright, the U.S. whistleblower who was removed last month as the director of BARDA, told a U.S. House of Representatives committee on Thursday that he was concerned about U.S. coronavirus preparedness, including vaccination efforts.
“A lot of optimism is swirling around a 12- to 18-month time frame [for a vaccine], if everything goes perfectly,” Bright said. “We’ve never seen everything go perfectly.”
“Normally, it takes up to 10 years to make a vaccine,” he said at another point.
The World Health Organization sounded a cautious note on Thursday.
Spokesperson Margaret Harris told a briefing in Geneva that while some treatments in very early studies seem to help, “we do not have anything that can kill or stop the virus.”
Published at Fri, 15 May 2020 15:51:08 +0000