When Will A Coronavirus Vaccine Be Available? The Latest Timeline : Consider This from NPR Data from two leading COVID-19 vaccine trials indicate they may be between 90 and 95% effective. Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientist in charge of the U.S. government's vaccine development program, Operation Warp Speed, tells NPR he's optimistic there is "a light at the end of the tunnel."

Dr. Anthony Fauci told NPR the results are worth celebrating — but that they should not be seen as a signal to pull back on public health measures. He also said the first vaccine doses may be available next month.

But it will still be months longer before any vaccine is widely available. Two former government health officials — Scott Gottlieb and Andy Slavitt — tell NPR that in the meantime, the pandemic is could kill 200,000 more Americans.

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Vaccine Trials Point To December Doses, 'Light At The End Of The Tunnel'

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Vaccine Trials Point To December Doses, 'Light At The End Of The Tunnel'

Vaccine Trials Point To December Doses, 'Light At The End Of The Tunnel'

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

So it's been two weeks in a row now...

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Pfizer says they have a vaccine that may be 90% effective.

CORNISH: ...With good news...

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Another vaccine candidate showing great promise...

CORNISH: ...About the prospect of a coronavirus vaccine.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: A vaccine developed by Moderna showing a 94.5% efficacy rate.

CORNISH: And yeah, it's probably OK to celebrate.

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ANTHONY FAUCI: Yes, it is OK to celebrate it because from a scientific and potential public health standpoint, this is an extraordinarily important advance.

CORNISH: Dr. Anthony Fauci told NPR on Tuesday that both vaccines - one from Pfizer, one from Moderna - were even more effective in large-scale trials than experts had hoped. And if everything continues according to plan, the first doses could be available next month.

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FAUCI: Literally next month. We hope that we'll be getting vaccine into people towards the end of December.

CORNISH: CONSIDER THIS. With two extremely promising vaccines and more still in the pipeline, public health officials are starting to talk about the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. But we're not there yet.

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FAUCI: That's the important point. This should not be a signal to pull back on the public health measures that we must continue to implement.

CORNISH: From NPR, I'm Audie Cornish. It's Tuesday, November 17.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. The FDA benchmark for approving a vaccine is 50% efficacy. The two vaccines speeding toward that approval appear to be between 90- and 95% effective.

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TAL ZAKS: You know, it's early days, but so far, if you look at the level of efficacy, we feel very good about it.

CORNISH: Tal Zaks is the chief medical officer at Moderna. The company's trial data showed an efficacy rate of 94.5% percent.

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ZAKS: And to have a point estimate of, you know, almost 95% of the ability to protect people from this disease - and it's worth noting that we were very transparent with our results.

CORNISH: Here's how they got those results. Thousands of people were divided into two groups. One group got the vaccine. One group got a placebo. Across both groups, 95 people got sick. They caught the virus in the course of their daily lives. But only five of those people were in the vaccinated group, and none of those people had what would be considered a severe case.

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ZAKS: The fact that, yes, we had a few that got sick but a much, much smaller number and no severe disease, I think, is very reassuring for us.

CORNISH: On Monday, after news of the Moderna result was released, NPR asked the chief scientist in charge of Operation Warp Speed for his reaction.

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MONCEF SLAOUI: Well, frankly, I would say ecstatic.

CORNISH: Dr. Moncef Slaoui. Operation Warp Speed is the government's vaccine development program.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SLAOUI: I feel more comfortable now saying that vaccines are possible, vaccination is possible and not only is possible - can be incredibly effective. And that's great news. So it gives me great optimism that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, frankly.

CORNISH: Now both companies - Pfizer and Moderna - could be weeks away from asking for emergency use authorization from the FDA - basically fast-tracked approval to begin distributing their vaccines. Other vaccines from other companies may soon reach that point as well. The next question is, who would get the vaccine first?

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FAUCI: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. It will be a graded list.

CORNISH: Anthony Fauci said the CDC will make the final call based on guidance from a group of doctors and scientists called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

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FAUCI: There will be a list in which you go from people who are either at a highest risk or are important to society. Then as you go down the risk - it gets to people who are less at risk for serious disease and then ultimately what we call the general population - you know, the 25-, 30-year-old person with no underlying conditions who's otherwise healthy. That likely will be the person towards the end.

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CORNISH: Of course, even the most optimistic timelines put that end in the spring or summer of next year. And in the meantime, the U.S. continues to set daily records for cases and hospitalizations. So the big question is, what will happen between now and next year?

I spoke about that with two former public health officials - Scott Gottlieb, who was head of the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, in the Trump administration - he also sits on the board of Pfizer - and Andy Slavitt, who was the acting head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the Obama administration.

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CORNISH: Looking at where things are today, this moment with the level of infection out there, how long of a difficult period are we looking at? Scott.

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: I think it's probably going to last through end of January. I think we're not going to really see around the corner for this epidemic wave that we're seeing right now until the end of January. We're likely to see cases continue to build at least over the next six to eight weeks. And even if the infection fatality rate comes down substantially - and I believe it has - we're still looking at the potential for another 200,000 deaths as a result of COVID over the next three months.

CORNISH: Andy.

ANDY SLAVITT: Yeah. I would just add to that that I'm particularly worried about certain communities - communities that have very small hospitals, a small staff, in rural and outlying areas. I think you could see death rates that are much higher.

Now, I want to end on a positive note by saying that the cases that we've seen to date are likely to be hospitalized, you know, around Thanksgiving. And maybe we'll learn about the death rate by Christmas. But everything after that is still up to us, and we still have an opportunity. I know it's challenging for folks, but we still have an opportunity to affect what happens after that.

CORNISH: At the same time, we're hearing more and more state and local leaders attempt to institute mask mandates, attempt to restrict the number of people in bars and lower the number of people doing gatherings. I mean, is it even enough to turn things around?

GOTTLIEB: It's enough to slow the spread. You know, I think that - I think these targeted mitigation - I think the steps that Michigan recently took - those are the kinds of measures I think we're likely to see more states do. I think they're the measures that we need to be implementing right now. It will have an impact. We don't need to revert back to broad-based lockdowns. We shouldn't have to. We have better testing in place. We know where the virus is spreading.

The problem's going to be that the health care system is going to become pressed, even though we're hospitalizing fewer patients, and patients are moving through the hospital more quickly 'cause we're better at treating COVID. If we end up infecting twice as many people as we infected in the prior wave, the hospital system will become pressed.

And what we were able to do during the last wave was move health care personnel around the country, so we were able to backstop regions that became epidemic. Now the entire country is a hot zone, and so there's not going to be a swing army of health care personnel.

CORNISH: I want to let Andy jump in here. Do you agree with that, looking at the position hospitals are in, et cetera?

SLAVITT: I do. And I think we really need right now to gather targeted support for bars and restaurants and gyms, places that are places of spread. You know, we're asking them to bear this burden. I would've wished that the Congress would've done something to slow that down because, you know, the things that show up in hospitals are the things that begin in the bars and restaurants and the gyms. And, you know, we don't want those places to close. We just need to support them.

CORNISH: You've both been in the position of advising administrations. What advice would you be giving the Trump administration or, more significantly, the incoming Biden administration?

GOTTLIEB: Well, look. I think the Trump administration is unlikely to change its strategy, which has been to largely leave decision-making to the states. With the Biden administration, I think they're going to be coming in at a time when we're going to be peaking, and we're going to be looking around the corner. And I think we need to look to what we - what can we open up safely, and how do we get support out of certain venues to allow them to open and stay open?

And the first thing I'd be doing is trying to prioritize resources to schools so that we can have a spring semester for children. I don't see any reason why we won't be able to open the schools as we get past this current acute phase of the pandemic. But I think schools are going to need targeted resources to help them do that.

SLAVITT: Yeah. This is Andy. I think Biden's two tools that the president-elect can bring are competency and compassion. And he'll bring an experienced set of people that will help make sure that we're supporting states, local government, schools in getting what they need.

But he is also going to have to use the bully pulpit and tell people he understands what they're going through, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, that he knows that people these days get their news from different sources and have different opinions but that this is an opportunity for us to pull together. That will be important to rally us all to do some good.

CORNISH: You've both served as de facto narrators of this pandemic since the beginning, using your social media feeds to issue warnings and predictions. Can I get, I guess, some thoughts from you on how we'll think of this moment when we look back a year from now or two years from now? Andy.

SLAVITT: You know, I think there's two measures that we're all going to have to wrestle with. One is just the blunt first line of the Wikipedia on COVID-19, which will be, how many people did we lose? And we need to do everything we can to save the next life.

The second is really going to be, I think, more of the oral history of this time, which is, we'll get asked by our kids and our grandkids, what did you do to help? Whether it's helping someone who's lonely or has a mental illness, whether it's helping a nurse, whether it's just simply wearing a mask, you know, what was it that you did to help? - because it's an extraordinary time. And, you know, we've never had this kind of opportunity to save other people's lives like we do now, and we all can be a part of it.

We're going to have to have a long conversation with - as a society when we're done with all of this about all of the ways we could have done a better job at this. And I think those go not just to public health questions, but to the kind of society we have and how we show up for one another.

CORNISH: Scott Gottlieb.

GOTTLIEB: Yeah. I think we're going to look back on this and recognize we weren't nearly as prepared to deal with this kind of a threat as we thought we were. We lacked the capacities to do it - the testing capacity, the capacity to scale up manufacturing. We were divided politically, and things like mask-wearing and targeted mitigation, which we should have had a collective response to, became issues that politically divided us.

And so I think we're going to recognize that we need to do much more to put in place better preparations for the future if we're going to guard against the next pandemic. And there will be a next pandemic. And we're going to need to do better in terms of preparing the country for it.

CORNISH: That was Scott Gottlieb, former head of the FDA during the Trump administration. He's now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and serves on the board of Pfizer. And Andy Slavitt - he was a top public health official in the Obama administration. He's now a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Audie Cornish.

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