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When will a COVID-19 vaccine come out?

when will a coronavirus vaccine come out
Photo via Jernej Furman/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • The CDC recently told states to be ready for a vaccine by Nov. 1
  • At least one pharmaceutical company predicts the end of October
  • Anthony Fauci, though, is more cautious with his estimate

As the United States enters its seventh month since the first COVID-19 case was recorded, Americans are coming to terms with the fact that we will be living in the “new normal” until researchers finish developing a vaccine. No amount of social distancing or face coverings can completely stop the spread of COVID-19, and vaccine distribution is the only realistic way communities will ever reach herd immunity. So, when will a COVID-19 vaccine come out?

The short answer: Health experts won’t truly know the answer until the vaccine is actually ready. 

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the vaccine developers have shared their estimated timelines. 

At the beginning of September, the CDC told states to prepare for a coronavirus vaccine to be ready to distribute by Nov. 1, according to the Associated Press. The announcement sent a wave of anxiety through the health community that the Trump Administration was trying to rush a vaccine to win the Nov. 3 presidential election. 

In a letter to governors, Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, told them to prepare to receive permit applications from McKesson Corporation “in the near future.” The AP wrote that McKesson will help distribute vaccines to state and local health departments and hospitals.

“CDC urgently requests your assistance in expediting applications for these distribution facilities and, if necessary, asks that you consider waiving requirements that would prevent these facilities from becoming fully operational by Nov. 1, 2020,” Redfield wrote.

According to USA Today, Dr. Albert Bourla—the chairman and CEO of Pfizer, one of the companies that’s in phase III clinical trials—backed up the CDC’s belief that a vaccine could be ready soon. He said Pfizer could have an effective vaccine by the end of October. 

Bourla told the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations that the clinical trial has already enrolled about 23,000 participants and “should be able to have enough events to say, if the product works or not” by the end of October. 

“We have already worked on the rest of the file,” Bourla said. “We are going to start submitting to the FDA, on a rolling base.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, does not feel as confident as his peers. He told CNN a vaccine is more likely to emerge in November or December. 

“These are all guesstimates,” Fauci said. “It is conceivable that you could have it by October, though I don’t think that that’s likely.” 

Notably, if a vaccine does get approved that soon, it will not be available to everyone. In August, the CDC released guidelines that stipulated the vaccine will first be distributed to more at-risk populations, including healthcare workers, immunocompromised individuals, essential workers, and the elderly. It seems more likely that a wide distribution of a vaccine wouldn’t occur until 2021. 

The CDC guidelines estimate that there will be just 1-3 million doses available in the first month once a vaccine gains approval. There will be 10-20 million doses available in the second month and 20-45 million doses available in the third month. There are more than 331 million people in the U.S. 

According to a vaccine tracker produced by the New York Times, there are 24 vaccines in phase 1 trials, 14 in phase 2 trials, nine in phase 3 trials, and three vaccines approved for early or limited use. Those three vaccines come from China and Russia and haven’t finished phase 3 trials, which experts say is dangerous. 

Read more on the coronavirus vaccine:

Sources: AP, USA Today, CNN, CDC, New York Times


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