Roughly 20 million people could be vaccinated against the coronavirus in December, the head of the Trump administration’s vaccine and drug accelerator said Friday.
Americans can expect that about 25 to 30 million people could be vaccinated each month afterward, said Moncef Slaoui, co-lead of Operation Warp Speed, during a Rose Garden event with President Donald Trump and other top health officials.
That timeline depends on the Food and Drug Administration authorizing the emergency use of one or more vaccines — which could happen in a matter of weeks, Slaoui noted.
Pfizer announced promising data this week suggesting its vaccine is more than 90 percent effective, and has said it will apply to FDA later this month. Moderna, which is working closely with the National Institutes of Health, is preparing to announce its own efficacy data in a matter of days. An emergency-use application could soon follow, Slaoui said.
Gen. Gustave Perna, Operation Warp Speed’s chief operating officer, said that the government would begin vaccination within 24 hours after a shot secures emergency authorization.
But while manufacturers have developed coronavirus vaccines in record speed, and dozens more are still in the pipeline, Slaoui’s projections mean it will likely take months just for first-priority groups such as health care workers and the elderly to get a shot.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are given as two doses, effectively cutting in half the government’s initial order of 100 million doses from each of the those manufacturers.
But Slaoui added that there could be more authorized vaccines in the spring, boosting chances for more people to get vaccinated. Four vaccines, including the Pfizer and Moderna shots, are now in late-stage U.S. trials, and at least one other company plans to start such a study this month.
“We may be able to immunize a larger number of Americans on an ongoing basis, per month,” Slaoui said after name-checking other promising candidates from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
The government has not yet released a comprehensive plan to distribute any coronavirus vaccines, including how it will handle logistics for shots that need to be shipped in below-freezing temperatures and outreach to skeptical communities.
Because of the real-world challenges of vaccine distribution and supply, federal health officials including CDC Director Robert Redfield project that broad access will not be a possibility until summer 2021.