One or more COVID-19 vaccines could be ready before the end of 2020, but leaders from federal health agencies coordinating the distribution of future vaccines warned it’s still vital for Americans to follow health precautions in the meantime.
Based on the progress of ongoing clinical trials, one or maybe even two COVID-19 vaccines could be available later this year, according to Dr. Jay Butler, the deputy director for infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that vaccines will be available, although in limited quantities, before the end of 2020,” Butler told reporters during a news conference Wednesday.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar went even further, estimating that there would be enough vaccine doses for all senior citizens, health care workers and first responders by the end of January, and for all Americans who want them by late March or early April.
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“There is hope on the way in the form of safe and effective vaccines in a matter of weeks or months,” Azar said.
The federal government is currently manufacturing six potential vaccines through a program named Operation Warp Speed. The plan is to be able to begin distributing vaccines the moment they’ve been cleared for use by the Food and Drug Administration.
Once they’re available, vaccines will first be distributed to people most at risk for the virus and essential health care workers, according to Butler. He said all jurisdictions had submitted their distribution plans to the CDC and the plans were currently under review.
Despite the cheery assessment on vaccine progress, officials warned that the coronavirus pandemic is still the most serious public health crisis the U.S. has faced in more than a century. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, noted that the number of COVID-19 cases around the world passed 40 million this week and that new cases are rising again across the U.S.
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The coronavirus has infected more than 8.3 million people and killed more than 221,000 in the U.S. alone, according to Johns Hopkins University. And the average number of new cases confirmed each day was trending upward over the past week.
Redfield warned that the U.S. is “approaching a critical phase” with the virus and said Americans must “remain diligent.”
“I know it’s been a difficult year for Americans, but we are going to come through this on the other side,” he said.
Butler, the CDC’s infectious diseases deputy director, pointed to four general “rules of thumb” for assessing coronavirus risk: how closely you’re interacting with others, how long interactions last, whether interactions occur indoors or outside and how many people are involved.
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Azar said Americans should follow the three Ws: wash hands frequently, watch your distance and wear a face covering. Also, avoid any situations where those are not possible.
“That advice is the same for any type of gathering,” he said.