Fauci: The US isn't sacrificing safety in the race for a vaccine

amiller@businessinsider.com (Anna Medaris Miller)
·5 min read
coronavirus vaccine
A researcher works on a vaccine against the new coronavirus COVID-19 at the Copenhagen's University research lab in Copenhagen, Denmark, on March 23, 2020.

THIBAULT SAVARY/AFP via Getty Images

  • On Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the acceleration of vaccine development isn't sacrificing safety, scientific integrity, or otherwise cutting corners. 

  • Rather, it's due to improved technologies and the US's proactive investment in making vaccines that may never be used.

  • Vaccine hesitancy is on the rise, but research suggests vaccines are one of the safest modern medical interventions. 

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

As drugmakers around the US race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, even Americans who consider themselves pro-vaccine are wondering whether rushing a vaccine's development — under the banner, no less, of "Operation Warp Speed" — means it's more likely to be dangerous. 

On Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said advanced technologies and money are fueling the accelerated effort. Safety isn't being overlooked, he said.

"We've been able to move extremely quickly without sacrificing any safety issues, without cutting corners, and certainly without compromising scientific integrity," he said during a livestream hosted by US News & World Report

He said he's optimistic a safe and effective vaccine will be available by the end of 2020.

Cutting-edge technology and investment in vaccines that may never be used has accelerated the process, Fauci said

Vaccine programs have been able to move so rapidly for two reasons.

First, they're using cutting-edge vaccine technologies.

For example, the biotech startup Moderna and NIH investigators used a new mRNA vaccine technology to turn the genetic code of the virus into an experimental vaccine that was given to the first volunteers in just over two months.

"That is unprecedented," Fauci said during the webcast. 

If Moderna was using traditional vaccine technologies, the company would "still be working at it as we speak, and we most probably would not even have started to make the product," CEO Bancel told Business Insider's Andrew Dunn a couple days after shipping the vaccine to the NIH.

Platforms like mRNA are promising yet unproven technologies. There are no federally approved mRNA vaccines, but, by using mRNA, companies like Moderna could develop experimental shots without ever needing a live sample of the virus. 

Second, the US is literally buying time by manufacturing vaccines that may never be used. 

"The government has invested hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to make vaccine doses before you even know that the vaccine works," Fauci said.

"That means that if the vaccine works, you've saved a bunch of months, rather than waiting until it works and then making the vaccine," Fauci said. "If the vaccine doesn't work, you lost a lot of money, but we feel this is serious enough that it's worth the financial risk." 

Vaccine hesitancy is on the rise, but a study found they're safer than 'almost any other modern medical intervention' 

Vaccine hesitancy has been on the rise in the US in recent years, and the pandemic has turned up even more skeptics

But an August study spanning 20 years and including 57 vaccines found "almost no significant side effects were identified," which lead author Dr. Daniel Shepshelovich told Business Insider was " remarkable."

Medical devices and pharmaceuticals do not have that track record. 

Shepshelovich said his study underscores the competence of scientists responsible for making sure vaccines are safe and effective. He expects their handling of a future COVID vaccine will be no different. 

"I'm sure that regulators are well aware of the public focus on the upcoming vaccine and will balance the urgent need for marketing approval with the need to make sure the vaccine is safe," he said. 

FILE - In this April 22, 2020, file photo, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the new coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, in Washington. A Senate hearing on reopening workplaces and schools safely is turning into a teaching moment on the fickle nature of the coronavirus outbreak. Senior health officials, including Fauci, scheduled to testify in person before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee on Tuesday, May 12 will instead appear via video link.  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
FILE - In this April 22, 2020, file photo, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the new coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, in Washington. A Senate hearing on reopening workplaces and schools safely is turning into a teaching moment on the fickle nature of the coronavirus outbreak. Senior health officials, including Fauci, scheduled to testify in person before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee on Tuesday, May 12 will instead appear via video link. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Associated Press

On Monday, Fauci voiced similar sentiments, saying on a show hosted by the journal JAMA that regulatory and safety boards evaluate the vaccines as they're being developed to see if they're worthless, harmful, or effective. 

That group is independent of both the teams running the clinical trials and the companies manufacturing them, he said. 

So while vaccines are being developed much more rapidly than during outbreaks' past, they still take time. Fauci said he's hesitant to say one could be available as early as September, as some reports have suggested

"You've heard the Russians and the Chinese saying they're already vaccinating people. The question is, you've got to test the vaccine if you want to be sure that it's safe and effective," he said on the JAMA show. "And I think we owe it to the American public that when we give them a vaccine, we can say with a degree of confidence that this vaccine is safe and that it's effective." 

Business Insider's Andrew Dunn contributed to the reporting of this story. 

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