Two of the country's leading doctors and COVID-19 experts — Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — urged patience and caution at an AARP tele-town hall focused on the status of the vaccines needed to combat the deadly disease.
Collins and Fauci reiterated the CDC's no travel recommendation, urging Americans to stay home for Thanksgiving. Each said they will be at home with their spouse and no other family for the holiday. They also took questions on the prospects for the much-anticipated coronavirus vaccines.
'An exhilarating 10 days’ for science
In the past week, two out of four companies whose vaccines are in the final stages of clinical trials in the U.S. announced their vaccines were about 95 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 in tens of thousands of volunteers enrolled in the trials. Pfizer, one of the vaccine developers, plans to submit its trial data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use authorization (EUA) today. Biotech firm Moderna will likely apply for an EUA in the coming weeks. (An EUA is a green light, of sorts, for vaccine distribution. It's what is needed to get the vaccine to the general public more quickly than conventional FDA approval.)
"This is a breathtakingly good,” Collins said — especially for older adults, who have accounted for 95 percent of COVID-19 deaths. Older Americans made up a share of participants in both trials, “so it is looking to be the case that both of these vaccines actually work really well in older individuals,” Collins explained.
Data from the trials still needs a rigorous review from experts at the FDA and from outside advisory committees, Collins stressed. Still, he called the preliminary findings “reassuring and exciting. ... It has been an exhilarating 10 days, scientifically, to see the results,” he said.
Older adults will likely get the vaccine first
If a vaccine gets the OK from the FDA before the end of the year, supplies will likely be limited to about 40 million doses, which is enough to vaccinate 20 million people, because both vaccine candidates require two shots, Collins explained.
A group called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will decide which Americans should receive the vaccine first while it is in limited supply, but in all likelihood, older adults and people with underlying health conditions, who are more at risk for hospitalization or death if infected with the coronavirus, will be among the first, along with health care personnel and other essential workers.