The success of Pfizer Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine trial may help persuade more people to get inoculated amid a surge in new coronavirus cases, according to Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious-disease doctor.
Pfizer’s vaccine, developed in collaboration with Germany’s BioNTech SE, has “an extraordinarily high degree of efficacy — more than 90%, close to 95%,” Fauci said in an interview. That could be a key factor in overcoming reluctance to take pandemic vaccines that have been developed at top speed.
“What I would hope is that even though there’s a degree of skepticism about vaccines in general, that when the general public sees how effective this vaccine is,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “we might see a turnaround of the attitude toward vaccination.”
The US may begin offering the vaccine to priority groups at the end of December, Fauci said. It’s hoped to blunt spiking infections that reached a record 190,000 new daily cases this week. The Trump administration has both purchased and funded development of doses from Pfizer and other drugmakers with a goal of making enough supplies for most Americans by year-end.
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The name of the administration’s effort, Operation Warp Speed, may have created an impression that corners are being cut to create a vaccine, undermining public confidence, researchers including Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, have said.
Just over half of US adults said in September they would definitely or probably take a vaccine to prevent Covid-19 if it were available, down from 72% in May, a national survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Center showed. A survey in June of people in 19 countries published last month in the journal Science found 71.5% of participants would probably take a Covid-19 vaccine, with acceptance ranging from almost 90% in China to less than 55% in Russia.
Results of a late-stage trial of a vaccine candidate from Moderna Inc. that uses the same messenger RNA technology as the Pfizer shot are likely to be available within a week, Fauci said. “And if that is really comparable to what we saw with the Pfizer trial, we’ll now have two highly effective vaccines,” he said.
“We’ve got to convince people to take the vaccine, because if you have a highly effective vaccine and only 50% of the people take it, you’re not going to have the impact that you’d need to essentially bring a pandemic down to such a low level that it’s no longer threatening society,” Fauci said. “And that’s the goal of a vaccine.”
The vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech SE and Moderna are given in a two-shot regimen. The duration of their protection, or that of any Covid-19 vaccine, isn’t yet known, Fauci said. Coronaviruses generally don’t generate an immune response with decades-long durability, and people are infected with one or more of the four coronaviruses that cause the common cold year after year, he said.
If the vaccine’s effect has “one to two years of durability, to me that’s fine, because we just go back and boost people and get the immunity up,” Fauci said.
More than 20 Covid vaccines have entered the final stage of patient studies that new pharmaceutical products are usually required to undergo for regulatory approval. Even though the late-stage trials may take only a few months, participants and others who receive experimental vaccines will be followed for as long as two years as part of safety monitoring and surveillance, Fauci said.
“You always want to be very careful when it comes to safety when you’re dealing with vaccines that you’re going to be giving to hundreds of millions, if not billions of people,” he said. “And that is something that is on everybody’s front burner. Safety is paramount.”