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Fauci just confirmed the bad coronavirus vaccine news we’ve been dreading

Published Jun 3rd, 2020 12:08PM EDT
Fauci Vaccine Comments
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  • Dr. Anthony Fauci made new coronavirus vaccine comments addressing coronavirus immunity concerns.
  • The expert said that the drugs that are in development might only provide up to 12 months of protection, as coronavirus immunity doesn’t appear to last longer for the novel coronavirus than it does for other known human viruses.
  • Fauci said in previous vaccine remarks that he’s cautiously optimistic about the vaccines that are in human testing right now, and he maintains that line of thinking. If effective, hundreds of millions of doses of the drugs could be available by early 2021.

The more we learn about the novel coronavirus, the clearer it is that COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon — if at all. But these past few weeks taught us that there’s a lot of hope for living with this new pathogen, just like we do with the flu. Doctors have tried several therapies that proved to be successful, and researchers are already crafting meds that should boost the immune response and prevent the virus from replicating inside the body. Also, more than 100 labs have devised vaccine candidates, and around 10 of them have already reached human trials, with several of them showing great promise.

Some vaccines might be ready as soon as late 2020, with more on the way next year. But the challenge of manufacturing and distributing enough doses will prevent the world’s entire population from having access to COVID-19 vaccines early on. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease expert who has direct knowledge of several of these projects, has always shown cautious optimism about coronavirus vaccine candidates. He said not so long ago that the first vaccines might be ready in early 2021 and then explained that the partial data available for some of them already shows that they indeed work as intended. But there’s no guarantee any of these vaccines will ultimately be effective against SARS-CoV-2. And even if they are, Fauci now cautions that immunity likely won’t last very long.

A study a few days ago told us that acquired immunity to any of the four human coronaviruses that cause the common cold will last anywhere between 6 to 12 months. That’s why we experience this type of disease over and over again.

Fauci told JAMA Editor Howard Bauchner the same thing in an interview, via CNBC. “When you look at the history of coronaviruses, the common coronaviruses that cause the common cold, the reports in the literature are that the durability of immunity that’s protective ranges from three to six months to almost always less than a year,” he said. “That’s not a lot of durability and protection.”

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases just gave us the bad COVID-19 vaccine news we dreaded. Immunization will not grant people long-lasting protection, and we could still be reinfected. Worse, even people who survive COVID-19 may experience it again in the future.

But even this type of immunity would help reduce outbreaks and make it much easier to manage the disease. We may never eradicate the virus, but vaccines combined with other meds could make it far less dangerous. The whole point of devising therapies for COVID-19 is to prevent complications and reduce mortality rates. That can definitely be achieved, and vaccines will help with that by protecting some communities and categories of workers.

At worst, you’ll have to get a new coronavirus vaccine every year, just like you do with the flu. But the flu vaccine offers limited immunity because the virus mutates a lot. The coronavirus is mostly stable, and current mutations would not hinder a vaccine’s efficacy.

Fauci is still cautiously optimistic about the effectiveness of several current vaccine candidates, noting that “there’s never a guarantee” with these types of drugs. “It could take months and months and months to get an answer,” he added.

Indeed, researchers are already running into an unexpected problem. There might not be enough COVID-19 cases in the regions where vaccine candidates have advanced to Phase 2 and 3, like the UK and China. Without enough sick people around, the volunteers who are vaccinated during the test might not be exposed to the pathogen.

Fauci also said that Moderna will move on to Phase 3 in July when it’ll enroll 30,000 people in the final stage of the trial. A few days ago, the expert criticized the company for the way it unveiled its early results for Phase 1 while noting that the vaccine candidate can teach the immune system to create the neutralizing antibodies that researchers want. These are the chemical compounds that can be used to block the virus from attaching to cells.

Aside from Moderna, Fauci said that he is either directly or indirectly involved in at least four more trials for potential vaccines. He said hundreds of millions of doses could be ready by the beginning of 2021.

Pfizer and BioNTech are conducting trials in Germany and the US. Separately, the US government made a $1.2 billion investment in AstraZeneca to secure 300 million doses of the Oxford vaccine that’s already in testing.

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.