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Coronavirus vaccine by January is 'doable,' Dr. Anthony Fauci says

Amid the race to find a vaccine, Fauci said the experimental drug remdesivir is "an important first step" in treating coronavirus patients now.
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/ Source: TODAY

Dr. Anthony Fauci says it's not out of the question that the United States could have a viable coronavirus vaccine by January.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Savannah Guthrie on NBC's "TODAY" show on Thursday that the government is quickly working on getting an answer to whether a vaccine is effective before beginning to manufacture hundreds of millions of doses.

"We want to go quickly, but we want to make sure it's safe and it's effective," Fauci said. "I think that is doable if things fall in the right place.

"Remember, go back in time, I was saying in January and February that it would be a year to 18 months (to develop a vaccine), so January is a year, so it isn't that much from what I had originally said."

Scientists at England's Oxford University said Wednesday that the vaccine they are developing could potentially be ready by September.

Manufacturing a potential vaccine would be on an accelerated timeline in order to get it to people as fast as possible.

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"If so, we're going to start ramping up production with the companies involved, and you do that at risk,'' Fauci said. "In other words, you don't wait until you get an answer before you start manufacturing. You, at risk, proactively start making it, assuming that it's going to work. And if it does, then you can scale up and hopefully and get to that timeline."

As for being able to treat coronavirus patients right now, Fauci spoke about the experimental drug remdesivir a day after he said at the White House that it has "a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery."

Fauci's comments came in the wake of a large study of more than 1,000 patients from multiple sites around the world that was a placebo-controlled, randomized trial. Fauci said Thursday that type of study is the "gold standard" of determining if a drug is effective or not.

The group that received remdesivir was able to be discharged from the hospital within 11 days on average, compared to 15 days in the placebo group, Fauci said at the White House.

However, he emphasized on "TODAY" that the study indicates that the drug made by Gilead Sciences helps in recovery but isn't a complete cure for the virus.

"Although the results were clearly positive from a statistically significant standpoint, they were modest,'' he said. "The improvement was a 31 percent better chance of recovering and getting out of the hospital. That's important, but it's the first step in what we project will be better and better drugs coming along.

"So it's good news, but I was very serious when I said this is not the total answer by any means. But it's a very important first step."

The CEO of Gilead Sciences, Daniel O'Day, will be on "TODAY" Friday to talk more about the breakthrough.

President Donald Trump expressed his hope Wednesday that remdesivir will be fast-tracked for approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

"It's going to be really quickly,'' Fauci said on "TODAY." "I would project that we're going to be seeing that reasonably soon."

Remdesivir is taken intravenously and takes months to manufacture, raising the question of how quickly it will be able to reach patients in need on a large scale. Fauci's understanding is that will not be an issue.

"I'm pretty confident that will be the case because I believe that they're committed to get this out as quickly as possible,'' he said.

Fauci's comments also come as more states across the country rescind restrictions on public life and reopen businesses. While he believes there will be "blips" of virus hotspots, he also believes states can be successful if they have the infrastructure set up to identify, isolate and contact trace coronavirus cases and "don't just leap over" important steps.

"If they do that, I feel cautiously optimistic,'' he said.