Dr. Anthony Fauci has some optimistic, if sobering, news. The most famous public health official in the country said in an interview with CBS News that a COVID-19 vaccine could be widely available by April 2021.
Fauci is not quite as optimistic (or, in a less charitable view, less willing to mislead the public to bolster his reelection bid) as President Trump, who has asserted that the United States would have 100 million vaccine doses by the end of the year. Even so, Fauci’s estimate is only possible if every current vaccine trial is successful, and even then the timeline is, according to Fauci, “likely be within the first quarter of 2021, by let’s say April of 2021.”
But even assuming every vaccine is successful is a big leap. Two days ago, the 60,000-patient clinical trial for a vaccine being conducted by Johnson & Johnson was suddenly stopped due to “an unexplained illness in a study participant.”
Another study, this one conducted by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, was put on hold on September 8 because a patient had a suspected adverse reaction. It was resumed roughly a week later in that country, but it remains on hold in the U.S.
Clinical trial delays are not uncommon, and there’s no reason to think that this study will have to be canceled at the moment. In fact, they’re also a sign of good science and should bolster confidence in a vaccine, because it means that vaccine makers are willing to take every possible safety step in order to release an effective vaccine. But still, every study delay makes a delay in the release of a vaccine at least marginally more likely.
Fauci did say that we should know if there’s a safe and effective vaccine candidate by November or December, which seems pretty good! But if you’ve been expecting to celebrate New Year’s Eve in close proximity to a bunch of other vaccinated people, it might be time to reevaluate those plans.