Dr. Fauci is still confident U.S. could have a coronavirus vaccine by December

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Friday, April 17, 2020, in Washington.

Alex Brandon | AP

It is “conceivable” that the U.S. could begin to roll out a coronavirus vaccine by December, the White House’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday.

“I think it is conceivable, if we don’t run into things that are, as they say, unanticipated setbacks, that we could have a vaccine that we could be beginning to deploy at the end of this calendar year, December 2020, or into January, 2021,” he told NPR’s Noel King. He added that any timeline for a vaccine is “never a promise.”

In January, Fauci predicted a vaccine could be ready in 12 to 18 months. He said Friday that the “schedule is still intact,” but cautioned that there could be obstacles. 

“When you’re dealing with vaccines there could be so many things that get in the way like it might not be entirely effective,” he said. “And you wouldn’t want to deploy a vaccine that’s not effective and certainly not one that’s not safe.”

Fauci’s remarks come after U.S. biotech company Moderna published some positive data from its phase one human trial on its potential vaccine. The National Institutes of Health, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, has partnered with Moderna to accelerate development of their vaccine candidate.

STAT News doused some of the optimism around the vaccine after reporting that vaccine researchers said the released data was incomplete. Fauci described it Friday as “partial data.”

Scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which Fauci serves as the director of, are now compiling the full data for submission to a peer-reviewed journal in a “couple of weeks,” he said. Fauci added that the potential vaccine is on “an accelerated pace,” but added that researchers are not compromising safety or care.

Researchers are accelerating development of the vaccine candidate by simultaneously investing in multiple stages of development that could prove to be useless if the vaccine ends up not being effective or safe, Fauci said. In a non-emergency situation, Fauci said, companies like Moderna would not risk investment by readying a phase three trial and even begin manufacturing doses before data from the phase one trial has been fully analyzed and released.

“The risk is not to the patient because the safety and the scientific integrity is intact,” Fauci said. “The risk is to the investment and we feel that it’s important enough to make those investments in order to save months.”

Last month, BARDA, which is a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, awarded Moderna up to $483 million in funding to accelerate development of the Covid-19 vaccine candidate.

Earlier this month, Moderna announced a 10-year partnership with Swiss drugmaker Lonza to accelerate production of the experimental vaccine. Bancel told CNBC at the time that the company hopes to begin manufacturing its potential vaccine “as early as July.”

“Our team is ready to start dosing as soon as we get the green light,” Bancel said on “Squawk Box.” He added that with the partnership, the company hopes to be able to manufacture about 1 billion doses per year.

The potential vaccine was the first candidate to enter a phase 1 human trial in March. More than 100 vaccines are in development globally as of April 30, according to the World Health Organization, with at least eight vaccine candidates already in human trials.

—CNBC’s Berkeley Lovelace contributed to this report.

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