KEY POINTS

  • Dr. Moncef Mohamed Slaoui and Dr. Francis Collins conclude a COVID-19 vaccine ready for use in October is doubtful
  • Slaoui said it's “extremely unlikely but not impossible” a vaccine could be available by the end of October
  • Trump repeats claims that a vaccine could be available before the Nov. 3 election

Two doctors playing key roles in developing a U.S. vaccine for COVID-19 agree it's unlikely a vaccine will be ready for public use before the Nov. 3 election, as President Donald Trump has claimed.

Dr. Moncef Mohamed Slaoui, the Moroccan-American chief scientific adviser for the White House's Operation Warp Speed, and Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), made declarations to this effect in separate recent interviews.

Slaoui said it's “extremely unlikely but not impossible” a vaccine could be available by the end of October in an interview with National Public Radio, reacting to a question as to why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had warned all 50 U.S. States to be ready to distribute a vaccine by the end of October.

Slaoui called this move a precaution and said it was “the right thing to do” in case a vaccine was ready by that time. “It would be irresponsible not to be ready if that was the case" while pointing out the “very, very low chance" of a vaccine becoming available only one month from now.

Slaoui also dismissed talk Trump was interfering to rush production of the vaccine by bypassing the critical phase 3 clinical trials. None of the current vaccine candiates have completed phase 3 stages.

“For us there is absolutely nothing to do with politics,” said Slaoui, noting those involved in developing these vaccines are working as hard as they can because so many people were dying every day. “Many of us may or may not be supportive of this administration. It’s irrelevant, frankly.”

Slaoui firmly believes the U.S. will have a vaccine available before the end of the year. This vaccine will likely be the investigational vaccine mRNA-1273 being developed by Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or the BNT162b2 vaccine candidate from Pfizer-BioNTech.

Slaoui said one of these vaccines should be available in quantities to immunize the highest risk patients, including the elderly and those who working in jobs with high exposure to the virus.

A transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles A transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles Photo: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases / Handout

He thinks there might be enough vaccine by the end of the year to immunize “probably between 20 and 25 million people” in this country. Manufacturing this vaccine will be accelerated so there will be enough doses to immunize the U.S. population “by the middle of 2021.”

Dr. Collins also said it’s “unlikely” a vaccine will be ready by October. “But I defend the CDC in their effort to try to be sure people are prepared,” said Collins in an interview with CNN.

“This is like the Boy Scout motto, ‘Be Prepared,’” noted Collins. “Even if it's very low likelihood, if everything happened to come together really beautifully and we had an answer by then and we knew we had a vaccine that was safe and effective, wouldn't you want people to be ready to figure out how to do the distribution? That's all that CDC is saying. ... Now keep in mind that the likelihood of that (a vaccine by October) is pretty low."

Trump echoed his claims that a vaccine will be ready before the election, but tried to distance himself from politicizing the issue in a Thursday speech in Pennsylvania.

"It will be delivered before the end of the year, in my opinion, before the end of the year, but it really might even be delivered before the end of October," Trump said. "How do you like that? Wouldn't that be nice? And you know why? Not because of the election. It'd be nice because we want to save people."