Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease specialist, told Kaiser Health News this week that a vaccine for the novel coronavirus could be available sooner than expected, assuming the clinical trials demonstrate that it's safe and effective.
Developing a vaccine is usually a process that takes years if not a decade or more. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic claiming hundreds of thousands of lives and disrupting economies across the world, time is of the essence, and the medical and pharmaceutical communities have been racing to get one up and running and deployed as soon as possible.
In the U.S., two ongoing clinical trials involving 30,000 human test subjects are in the later stages of the vaccine development process. Recording, compiling, and reviewing the information from those trials is itself a lengthy undertaking, but Dr. Fauci said that, if the early results are overwhelming one way or the other, the trials can be halted prematurely.
"[The Data and Safety Monitoring Board could say], 'The data is so good right now that you can say it's safe and effective,'" Fauci said.
If that were the case, then the researchers would have the "moral obligation" to give the vaccine to every patient in the study, including those in the control group who had been given a placebo, with a view toward getting the medicine approved and, ultimately, deployed to millions of Americans who want it.
However, Fauci also pointed out that the development and implementation of the vaccine, assuming the evidence indicates that it works, should be based on science, and not on political pressure.
"If you are making a decision about the vaccine, you'd better be sure you have very good evidence that it is both safe and effective. I'm not concerned about political pressure," he said.
Further, he noted that he trusts the members of the scientific board that governs vaccine development, none of whom are government employees, to apply high standards to the process and not act out of pressure from government officials.
As The Associated Press reported in June, the Trump administration is reportedly angling to have a coronavirus vaccine approved and deployed sooner rather than later, perhaps as an effort to boost his candidacy and be able to take credit for it.
At the time, Fauci noted that he was cautiously optimistic that a vaccine could be ready by the end of the year, though he has always been clear that science should be the driving factor in the decision to approve a vaccine.
"The ultimate goal of this would be to get full licensure based on clear-cut efficacy and safety data," he said.