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Azar says COVID-19 vaccine could be delivered to vulnerable people by January

Azar says COVID-19 vaccine could be delivered to vulnerable people by January
© Bonnie Cash

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday that a COVID-19 vaccine may be available for vulnerable Americans by January.

“There is hope on the way in the form of safe and effective vaccines in a matter of weeks or months,” said Azar at a press conference at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

“We expect that we would have by end of this year enough vaccine that is FDA-authorized to be able to vaccinate the most vulnerable individuals,” he added. “Then, by end of January, we’d expect we’d have enough to vaccinate all seniors, as well as our health care workers and first responders.”

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A vaccine could be made available to wider swaths of the population by April, he added.

Azar said he is confident the administration will be able to stick with the timetable, though he noted that health officials must be prepared if vaccine production is hindered for some unforeseen reason.

“I wish I could say everything is going to go 100 percent according to plan, but we also have to be ready in case it doesn’t,” he said.

Several drugmakers, including Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, have already begun trials testing their own vaccines. Tests to ensure their products’ safety are still ongoing, though some have faced hurdles after subjects fell ill

The timeline for a vaccine has come under intense scrutiny after President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE pushed back on health officials’ predictions that one would be made widely available sometime in 2021.

CDC Director Robert Redfield said last month that he didn’t expect a potential vaccine for COVID-19 to be broadly available to the general public until the second or third quarter of 2021, prompting Trump to say Redfield had made a “mistake” and that a vaccine could be delivered by October 2020.

Trump’s rebuke sparked criticism from Democrats who alleged that the president was trying to rush the development of a vaccine to boost his reelection prospects. 

Health officials are expressing concern over a rising third wave of coronavirus infections, which could be even further exacerbated in the coming winter months. More than 222,000 people have already died from the virus in the U.S.