As of Friday, more than 7.3 million Americans have contracted COVID-19, and over 200,000 people have died of the coronavirus. But the true scope of the pandemic in the U.S. has never been so clear and intensely palpable now that we know the president has caught the virus.
Early Friday morning, President Donald Trump confirmed on Twitter that he and first lady Melania Trump had both tested positive for COVID-19.
Just three days ago, the president claimed during his first TV debate this year that a COVID-19 vaccine is “weeks away” after speaking with Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson, two of the leading drugmakers in the vaccine race.
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However, we are unlikely to have a safe and effective vaccine that soon, according to leaders at several frontrunner vaccine developers and recent setbacks in key final-stage tests.
British pharma giant AstraZeneca, one of the most hopeful vaccine makers, halted phase 3 trials of its AZD1222 vaccine last month due to an unexpected side effect in one of the trial participants. The drugmaker has resumed testing in some countries, but not yet in the U.S. as the FDA carries out an investigation into the company’s safety practice.
Another vaccine frontrunner, Pfizer, won’t be able to deliver on its promise on time, either. The company’s experimental vaccine, BNT162, was once expected to complete phase 3 tests by the end of October and start distribution before the New Year. However, a company spokesperson recently said Pfizer would be nowhere near trial completion by the end of October.
On Thursday, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla hinted in an employee memo that the company is no rush to push the vaccine timeline.
“In this hyper-partisan year, there are some who would like us to move more quickly and others who argue for delay,” Bourla wrote. “Neither of those options are acceptable to me.”
“I wanted to keep Pfizer out of politics,” he added. “When you get money from someone, that always comes with strings. They want to see how you’re going to progress, what type of moves you’re going to do, they want reports. I didn’t want to have any of that.”
Giving a realistic outlook of the first COVID-19 vaccine’s available date, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said Wednesday the company’s vaccine won’t be ready for use until March or April 2021.
“I think a late Q1, early Q2 approval is a reasonable timeline, based on what we know from our vaccine,” Bancel said at the U.S. Pharma and Biotech Conference hosted by The Financial Times.
Moderna’s vaccine, mRNA-1273, is being tested on roughly 30,000 participants as part of a global phase 3 trial. Bancel said his company won’t submit the vaccine for the FDA approval until at least January.