12 November 2020

US may have safe COVID vax by year’s end: Fauci at ACR

ACR

Infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci says he is “cautiously optimistic” that the United States will have a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine as early as late November.

In a video presentation for the American College of Rheumatology’s 2020 virtual conference, Dr Fauci said five of the six vaccines being trialled in the US are currently in phase three trials and that it’s likely more than one candidate will be successful.

“The US Government has made major investments in the development and testing of six candidates among the 11-plus candidates that are being tested world-wide,” said Dr Fauci, who leads the US’ coronavirus taskforce and has been Director of the US’ National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984.

“The early data from animal studies and from phase one studies looking at the induction of robust levels of neutralising antibodies make us feel cautiously optimistic that we will have a safe and effective vaccine by the end of this calendar year, which we may be able to deploy in individuals with a high risk level – for example medical personnel on the front-line and those with underlying conditions – into the first few months of 2021.”

Dr Fauci said the US had been hit the hardest of any other country by the virus with close to 10 million cases, but that race and ethnicity played a large role in determining who was worst affected by the disease.

“Regarding racial and ethnic disparities, this is really quite serious,” Dr Fauci said.

“In the US we are seeing a rather profound disparity not only in the incidence of infections due the jobs that people of a minority demographic group – namely African-American and Latinx – have, that put them out in the community exposed to infection, but also an increased incidence of the comorbidities which allow for more severe COVID-19 disease.”

He referred to a graph showing age-adjusted COVID-19-associated hospitalisation rates by race and ethnicity in the US from 1 March to 24 October this year, which showed there were 408 Hispanic/Latino, 399 American Indian/Alaska Native, and 390 Black and Non-Hispanic hospitalisations per 100,000 people, compared to 94 White and Non-Hispanic.

There was a “significant difference” between the US and Europe, mainly Italy and Spain, in the degree of lockdown imposed on the populations, he said.

“The fundamentals to preventing the acquisition and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 are five-fold: the universal wearing of masks or cloth face coverings; maintaining physical distances of at least six feet; to avoid crowds and congregate settings; conduct activities outdoors much more preferentially than indoors; and frequently washing hands.

“If those five public health measures were adhered to universally and consistently over the country, it is clear from our previous experiences with other nations and even regions within our own country, that we would not be having the degree of surging of cases that we are currently seeing.”

Dr Fauci, who has advised six American presidents on domestic and international issues, recently praised Australia’s coronavirus response in a panel discussion with Doherty Institute Director Professor Sharon Lewin and the University of Melbourne’s Dean of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences Professor Shitij Kapur.

He also lamented the politicisation of mask wearing in the US.

“People were ridiculed for wearing masks, it depended on which side of a political spectrum you were at, which is so painful to me as a physician, a scientist and a public health person — to see such divisiveness centred around a public health issue,” Dr Fauci said.

“If there’s one area of life that there should not be divisiveness, it is in the health of your nation.”

Dr Fauci was awarded the ACR’s Distinguished Global Public Health Award during the conference.

He encouraged anyone who was interested in COVID-19 prevention work, in particular the vaccine trials underway, to visit www.preventcovid.org