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Nov. 16, 2020, 8:59 a.m. EST

‘Help is coming — and it’s coming soon’: Dr. Fauci outlines when COVID-19 vaccine will be available to all Americans

‘When we get both of those things together — vaccine and public health measures — that would really be a game changer,’ says government’s top infectious-diseases expert

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By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch


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Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: ‘We have a lot of people in this country who may not want to get vaccinated right away.’

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the leading government expert in infectious diseases for the past four decades, gave his estimate of when a vaccine will be available to all Americans: “We’re talking probably by April.” The veteran immunologist said frontline workers, those with pre-existing conditions, and vulnerable members of the population will be first in line.

But for those who wish to avail themselves of new vaccines, assuming they progress smoothly, Fauci has a timeline. “I believe within the first quarter,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper last week. “We have a lot of people in this country who may not want to get vaccinated right away. That’s why were talking about this leading to the second or third quarter to get people convinced to get vaccinated.”

‘The news of this vaccine is really extraordinary.’

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

“Help is coming, and it’s coming soon,” he added. “We likely will be able to start dispensing vaccines in December. When we get both of those things together — vaccine and public health measures — that would really be a game changer.”

There has been some encouraging vaccination news for COVID-19 over the last seven days. Last week BioNTech SE and Pfizersaid their vaccine is 90% effective in first interim analysis of Phase 3 study in trial participants without previous evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection. On Monday, Moderna also said that its COVID-19 vaccine candidate met its primary endpoint in a Phase 3 trial, demonstrating 94.5% efficacy and, it added, requires only standard refrigeration.

The Moderna news was shared in a news release and has not yet been published as a preprint or in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Like BioNTech and Pfizer, Moderna plans to submit an Emergency Use Authorization with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In addition to Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +2.68% BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +4.02% and its partner Pfizer’s /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +1.47% vaccines, AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN +1.72% , in combination with Oxford University; Johnson & Johnson /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ +0.81% ; Merck & Co. ID:MERK +0.60% ; Sanofi /zigman2/quotes/202859081/composite SAN +3.88% ; and GlaxoSmithKline /zigman2/quotes/209463850/composite GSK +0.64% are also working toward COVID-19 vaccines.

Even if a vaccine does become available by the start of 2021, experts say it will likely be the first quarter before it's available to all Americans.

News of the BioNTech-Pfizer and, in particular, the Moderna vaccines boosted shares in premarket trading ahead of the market’s opening on Monday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +1.42% surged 4.1% on the week and S&P 500 index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +1.29%  2.2%, while the Nasdaq Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP +1.03%  dipped 0.6%.

Health professionals say the news has come not a moment too soon: The U.S. has recorded more than 1 million COVID-19 cases in 6 days. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will need to be kept in freezing temperatures for distribution and will require two doses. But Fauci told CNN that was not unexpected. “It’s a challenge that was anticipated,” he said. “That was part of the ‘Warp Speed’ agenda.”

Related: Scientists pour cold water on ‘intriguing’ — and potentially fatal — similarity between COVID-19 and 1918 flu

“The news of this vaccine is really extraordinary,” Fauci said. He said the extremely high level of expected efficacy should help persuade more people to get vaccinated early, but he cautioned people not to abandon public-health measures like wearing a mask, washing hands, avoiding crowds and meeting others in public places outdoors.

Still, analysts and health professionals also provide some sobering thoughts . For one, there is as yet not details about how the companies’ much-anticipated vaccine performed in different vulnerable patient populations, including the elderly and those with co-morbidities such as diabetes or hypertension, and there are still questions about how long immunity to the virus lasts,

Related: Joe Biden’s pandemic plan

Some 60% of people said they are willing to take a vaccine if and when it’s released if they can reduce their chance of infection by half, according to a survey by STAT News and the Harris Poll . What’s more, almost two-thirds said they would take a vaccine if it reduced their risk of contracting the coronavirus by 75%.The online survey was taken by 1,954 online between Oct. 29 and Oct. 31.

“If we’re actually at 90%, it’s going to reinforce for two-thirds of Americans who are then much more likely to take the vaccine, although I think it’s fair to say that it doesn’t need to be 90% effective to get that pull through,” Rob Jekielek, managing director of the Harris Poll, told STAT. However, younger people are less likely to say they’ll get the vaccine than older Americans.

While the U.S. makes up 4% of the world’s population, it has had 20% of all COVID-19 cases. As of Monday, the U.S. had reported 11 million coronavirus cases and 246,236 COVID-related deaths, just ahead of India (8.8 million cases to date), according to Johns Hopkins University. To put that in context: The U.S. has a population of 328 million people versus 1.35 billion in India.

The U.S. daily tally of coronavirus infections topped 130,000 on Sunday, 160,500 on Saturday, and 184,000 on Friday, a daily record. Hospitals in the Midwest and southern states including Texas and Florida continued to feel the strain. Hospitalizations are at their highest level since the pandemic began, up 30% since Nov. 1, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

Before the vaccination news from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna, Fauci said that he was hopeful that a coronavirus vaccine could be developed by early 2021, but said he believed it was unlikely that a vaccine would deliver 100% immunity. Two months ago, he said the best realistic outcome, based on other vaccines, would be 70% to 75% effective. The measles vaccine is among the most effective, with 97% immunity.

On Friday, President Donald Trump said that “time will tell’ if he stays in power, despite Joe Biden winning both the popular and electoral vote in the presidential election, and he threatened to withhold a coronavirus vaccine, if/when it becomes available, from New York.

“Whatever happens in the future, who knows which administration it will be — I guess time will tell, but I can tell you this administration will not go to a lockdown,” Trump said at the White House’s Rose Garden, speaking about the “Operation Warp Speed” public-private partnership that aims to accelerate development of a COVID-19 vaccine. He didn’t respond to reporters’ shouted questions about conceding the election.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine collaboration did not receive public funding under the Trump administration’s so-called Operation Warp Speed program, though an advance order was placed through that program in the event that the vaccine wins regulatory approval. Moderna and AstraZeneca did, the New York Times notes , accept Operation Warp Speed funds.

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Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch's personal-finance editor and The Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo.

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