Infectious disease experts say it may take 1 year for COVID-19 vaccine to be widely available after approval

FILE - Illustration of syringe seen with American flag in the background. (Photo illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Even with rapid developments being made on a coronavirus vaccine, many infectious disease experts believe that it could be as long as a year until one is available to the public after the vaccine is approved — and even longer until the world returns to relative normalcy.

InCrowd, a medical research company, surveyed 100 infectious disease specialists between June 26 and July 6 on their thoughts and beliefs about the COVID-19 crisis. Results from the survey showed that 80% of respondents believed a coronavirus vaccine would be widely available to the public within a year of it being approved for distribution.

More than one-third of the specialists said that they believe the pandemic cannot be contained in its present state, while 36% believe the U.S. will be able to contain the pandemic once a vaccine is made widely available. 

Almost 75% of the respondents felt that health care workers should be given priority in receiving a vaccine when one is approved and distributed.

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According to a press release about the survey, front line treating physicians said that they believe it will not be until at least October 2021 that the world returns to a sense of normalcy, a prediction “that is more than twice as long as physician estimates in May.”

There were more than 165 coronavirus vaccines in development across the world as of Aug. 12. Eight vaccines were in large-scale efficacy tests and 11 were in expanded safety trials, according to data from the New York Times’ Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said he hopes a vaccine will be widely available by early next year, but was not able to comment on a specific time frame. 

When speaking to a congressional panel in July, Fauci expressed “cautious” optimism that a vaccine would be available, particularly by next year.

“I believe, ultimately, over a period of time in 2021, that Americans will be able to get it,” Fauci said, referring to a vaccine.

On whether there will be a priority list for who gets early vaccinations, Fauci said, “I don't think we will have everybody getting it immediately.”

Fauci said during an Aug. 7 webinar hosted by Brown University that while he hopes a vaccine could be be 75% effective, one that is 50% to 60% effective would also be acceptable. “We don’t know yet what the efficacy might be. We don’t know if it will be 50% or 60%. I’d like it to be 75% or more,” Fauci said. “What I’m shooting for is somewhere between really good control and elimination.”

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“The chances of it being 98% effective is not great, which means you must never abandon the public health approach,” Fauci said.

Even if a vaccine was widely available, its efficacy could be hampered by Americans refusing to take it.

An Aug. 7 poll from Gallup showed as many as one in three Americans said they would not get a vaccine for COVID-19, even if the vaccine was FDA-approved and there was no cost out-of-pocket.

There’s still no guarantee that the experimental vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., will really protect.

There’s still no guarantee that the experimental vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., will really protect.

It normally takes years to create a new vaccine from scratch, but scientists are setting speed records this time around, spurred by knowledge that vaccination is the world’s best hope against the pandemic. The coronavirus wasn’t even known to exist before late December, and vaccine makers sprang into action Jan. 10 when China shared the virus’ genetic sequence.

Governments around the world are trying to stockpile millions of doses of those leading candidates so if and when regulators approve one or more vaccines, immunizations can begin immediately. But the first available doses will be rationed, presumably reserved for people at highest risk from the virus.

Russia on Tuesday became the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine, a move that was met with international skepticism and unease because the shots have only been studied in dozens of people.

President Vladimir Putin announced the Health Ministry’s approval and said one of his two adult daughters already was inoculated. He said the vaccine underwent the necessary tests and was shown to provide lasting immunity to the coronavirus, although Russian authorities have offered no proof to back up claims of safety or effectiveness.

However, scientists in Russia and other countries sounded an alarm, saying that rushing to offer the vaccine before final-stage testing could backfire. What’s called a Phase 3 trial — which involves tens of thousands of people and can take months — is the only way to prove if an experimental vaccine is safe and really works.

By comparison, vaccines entering final-stage testing in the U.S. require studies of 30,000 people each. Two vaccine candidates already have begun those huge studies, with three more set to get underway by fall.

“Fast-tracked approval will not make Russia the leader in the race, it will just expose consumers of the vaccine to unnecessary danger,” said Russia’s Association of Clinical Trials Organizations, in urging government officials to postpone approving the vaccine without completed advanced trials.

The World Health Organization has urged that all vaccine candidates go through full stages of testing before being rolled out, and said Tuesday it is in touch with the Russian scientists and “looks forward to reviewing” Russia’s study data. Experts have warned that vaccines that are not properly tested can cause harm in many ways — from harming health to creating a false sense of security or undermining trust in vaccinations.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.