Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation's leading infectious disease experts, believes that by early 2021, the U.S. will have "a couple of hundred million doses" of a vaccine for the coronavirus.
In an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday, Fauci said there are four or five trials underway for vaccine candidates, and he expects the U.S. to have millions of doses of a vaccine by the end of the year.
"By the beginning of 2021, we hope to have a couple of hundred million doses," he said.
The Trump administration launched Operation Warp Speed several weeks ago with the goal of speeding up the development and distribution of a coronavirus vaccine. While public health experts, including Fauci, have said it takes 12 to 18 months to develop a vaccine, President Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar are aiming to have 300 million doses of a vaccine available to the American people by the new year.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said Phase III trials for a vaccine candidate developed by Moderna, a U.S.-based biotech company, are expected to begin in early July. The trial will involve 30,000 people and include a wide spectrum of participants, including the elderly and those with underlying conditions and comorbidities.
Another vaccine candidate from AstraZeneca, developed by the University of Oxford, is proceeding on a similar track, Fauci said.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that with the multiple candidates that we have with different platforms, that we're going to have a vaccine that shows a degree of efficacy that would make it deployable," he said, adding that most who become infected with the coronavirus recover and make an immune response to clear the virus.
"If the body is capable of making an immune response to clear the virus of natural infection, that's a pretty good proof of concept to say that you're going to make an immune response in response to a vaccine," he said.
But Fauci cautioned there is "never a guarantee, ever, that you're going to get an effective vaccine."
Fauci said production of a vaccine is going to proceed as trials are underway, speeding up the time it takes to get it to the public.
"It isn't as if we're going to make the vaccine, show it's effective and then have to wait a year to rev up to millions and millions and millions of doses," he said. "That's going to be done as we're testing the vaccine."
As many states begin to slowly ease restrictions put in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, public health officials say a return to normalcy will hinge on the widespread availability of a vaccine.
The Trump administration last month announced a partnership with AstraZeneca for at least 300 million doses of the vaccine developed by Oxford and committed up to $1.2 billion to the effort.