Story at a glance

  • Robert Redfield told a Senate subcommittee that a COVID-19 vaccine could help the U.S. return to normal by the third quarter of 2021.
  • Multiple experts have warned against rushing a vaccine candidate through clinical trials.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield said that the U.S. should have enough doses of a COVID-19 vaccine for Americans to return to pre-pandemic life by the third quarter of 2021.

Speaking to a Senate panel on Wednesday, Redfield said that he predicts vaccinations to begin around November or December, but only limited quantities will be available. Doses will likely be distributed to at-risk essential workers first, such as health care employees.

“If you’re asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we’re probably looking at ... late second quarter, third quarter 2021,” Redfield told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee.


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The top health official's comments come as President Trump has pushed to develop a vaccine before the November election, though experts have said any vaccine that is deemed safe likely won't be available broadly in the U.S. for months.

And while much of the world has pinned its hopes for a recovery following the pandemic on the approval of an effective and safe COVID-19 vaccine, Redfield on Wednesday emphasized the need for more people to wear face coverings in public, suggesting masks are a more effective tool right now than any potential vaccine.

“We have clear scientific evidence they work, I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine, because the immunogenicity may be 70 percent and if I don't get an immune response, the vaccine's not going to protect me, this face mask will,” he said.

Experts have previously echoed Redfield’s statements. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious diseases expert, said that he would like to see a potential COVID-19 vaccine to have an at least 75 percent efficacy rate, although Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance requires any approved vaccine to be at least 50 percent effective.

A 75 percent efficacy would imply that out of 100 people who receive a vaccine treatment, 75 of them would not get the disease. Even for those who do contract the virus, a vaccine could help produce an immune response making the illness less severe than if someone is not vaccinated. 

To ensure the public will largely be able to have access to the vaccine, the Trump administration has introduced a plan to make a COVID-19 vaccine free to all Americans. In this plan, officials anticipate the vaccine to be released under an emergency use authorization prior to formal approval.


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While many have pushed for a COVID-19 vaccine to be developed as quickly as possible, experts have warned against any outside political influence on the process in order to ensure the vaccine candidates' safety.

“The one thing that you would not want to see with a vaccine is getting an EUA (emergency use authorization) before you have a signal of efficacy,” Fauci said last month. “One of the potential dangers if you prematurely let a vaccine out is that it would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the other vaccines to enroll people in their trial.”

The contention over the safety of an approved COVID-19 vaccine prompted multiple drug companies to issue a rare joint statement promising they would not cut corners to push drugs to market.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers promised to “only submit for approval or emergency use authorization after demonstrating safety and efficacy through a Phase 3 clinical study that is designed and conducted to meet requirements of expert regulatory authorities such as FDA.”


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Published on Sep 16, 2020