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Dr. Fauci just made it easy to understand why coronavirus vaccines are so promising

Published Aug 8th, 2020 2:54PM EDT
Coronavirus Vaccine Updates
Image: YouTube

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  • Dr. Anthony Fauci gave a new update on coronavirus vaccine research and trials, explaining why he remains cautiously optimistic about COVID-19 vaccine research.
  • The health expert compared COVID-19 and AIDS vaccine research, and explained why a coronavirus vaccine can be done in a year while HIV vaccines have failed for nearly 40 years.
  • Fauci said that the immune system can’t put up a fight against HIV, but it can eliminate the novel coronavirus. That process is critical for understanding what researchers aim for when developing vaccine candidates and why COVID-19 vaccine research is so promising.

The scientific community’s mobilization during the novel coronavirus pandemic is one of the often-overlooked feats amid this health crisis. Scientists learned everything they could about the virus early on in the pandemic, sequencing the new virus’ DNA and proving the pathogen evolved naturally in animals before finding its first human host. Based on that information, they were able to come up with more than 150 vaccine ideas, many of which are in advanced clinical trials. Others crafted therapies to prevent COVID-19 complications and deaths, while even more researchers studied all the ways the virus behaves, proving that face masks work and that the virus can linger in the air for extended periods. Thanks to all that speed, we’ll almost certainly have our first COVID-19 vaccines this fall. We’ll know whether the vaccines that reached Phase 3 of testing are effective and safe, and we’ll know when and how immunization campaigns will be structured.

Leading the vaccine effort from his position as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is Dr. Anthony Fauci. The health expert keeps saying that he’s cautiously optimistic about the global vaccine efforts. The US government is funding several vaccine candidates via its Operation Wars Speed program and has already committed to purchasing hundreds of millions of doses once they receive regulatory approval. Fauci has now appeared in another interview about the pandemic and he explained precisely why he thinks the world has a good chance of developing a very effective COVID-19 vaccine.

Fauci appeared in a video interview with Brown University on Friday, which was streamed online via YouTube. The health expert was asked whether he’s confident there will be a vaccine ready by the end of this year or early next year, and that’s when Fauci compared COVID-19 vaccine progress with HIV.

Fauci explained that getting a vaccine for AIDS is “really very, very different” compared to a COVID-19 vaccine. It’s all because the human body responds to the HIV and SARS-CoV-2 viruses very differently.

“When you have a disease in which the body’s natural response to infection is inadequate, then it very difficult for you to get a vaccine,” he said. “And we know from the 39 years that I’ve been taking care of AIDS patients; the body does not make a naturally good immune response against HIV.”

He said that the goal of vaccines is to do at least as good as the human body. That’s the standard response. The immune system can’t put up a fight against HIV like it does against the coronavirus, and that’s why an AIDS vaccine would have to do even better.

The novel coronavirus, on the other hand, is a different kind of attacker. “We know that the body is capable of making a good response,” Fauci said. “And the reason we know is because we have so many people who clear the virus and do well. So the goal of a vaccine is to do as well, or hopefully better, than natural infection —introducing a good response.”

The various COVID-19 vaccine trials that have reached Phase 3 of testing proved that the experimental drugs could induce an immune response that’s comparable or even better than the immune response of patients who clear the virus and recover. That’s why Fauci is “cautiously optimistic” about the drugs.

“I’ve been developing vaccines now as director of the Institute for 36 years,” Fauci said. “You should never feel confident when you’re dealing with something that requires a randomized placebo-controlled trial to prove it. What I’m confident in is data. I’m not confident in guessing or surmising. But having said that, the reason I do feel cautiously optimistic is that when you look at the early response, both in the animal data, but importantly in the human phase one. It induces a response with neutralizing antibodies that’s at least as good, if not better, than the plasma of convalescent people, which tells me that’s a good start.”

The doctor explained there’s no guarantee any of the drugs in Phase 3 trials will work. Still, he expects concrete answers sometime in November or December. It could be even sooner than that if the number of infections remains high. The more people are infected in a community, the easier it would be for researchers to determine whether the vaccine trial volunteers who are exposed to the virus during daily life get infected or not.

“I hope that answer is that it’s safe and effective, but I can’t guarantee it. You only can rely on my cautious optimism,” he said. The full interview can be seen in the video embedded below.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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