WASHINGTON -- Surging coronavirus cases across the United States may offer one upside, increasing the chances of a vaccine breakthrough before November, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease expert on the White House coronavirus task force, told McClatchy in an interview Friday.
That could be a silver lining for President Donald Trump, who has been pushing for the discovery of a COVID-19 vaccine before the November 3 election amid sinking poll numbers over his handling of the pandemic.
The sheer scope of the current outbreak could speed up clinical trials currently underway for potential vaccines, Fauci said, by generating data on their effectiveness more quickly from volunteers located in coronavirus hot spots.
"The more infections you have in the community, the quicker you get an answer," Fauci said. "We don't want there to be a lot of infections in our country. But on the other hand, if there are, we get an answer regarding the efficacy of the vaccine sooner."
Phase III clinical trials for two potential vaccines -- from Moderna, a biotechnology company, and Pfizer, a pharmaceutical giant -- began on July 27. Advanced trials for other vaccine candidates from companies such as Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are set to begin within weeks.
Fauci said he expects those first two trials will be fully set up, with roughly 30,000 individuals recruited as volunteers for each study, within six weeks, by mid-September.
"If everyone has their full scale immunization by October or so, you should get some results by November or December," Fauci said. "If we have a large number of infections, we could get an answer sooner than November, December. But my projection, and that of almost everybody who's involved in this, is that it is more likely -- though not definitive -- that it is more likely that it will be November and December. But it is possible that it could be earlier."
Trump administration officials have made it a top priority to declare a vaccine discovery by November, launching Operation Warp Speed -- a federal program to discover, produce and deliver 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine by January -- to coordinate the all-of-government push.
The president's focus on that program has led some scientists to express concern that the administration may rush a vaccine to market before it is fully ready.
Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday that the discovery of a vaccine before the November vote could help his election prospects.