HHS Secretary: Coronavirus Vaccine Would Be ‘Fastest Vaccine Delivery in Human History’

Melanie Arter | March 4, 2020 | 6:24pm EST
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(Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - A coronavirus vaccine is on track to be developed in the next year or so, which would probably be “the fastest vaccine delivery in human history,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” on Wednesday.

“I'm certainly encouraged by that vaccine time. That would be probably the fastest vaccine delivery in human history if we could get a vaccine developed in 12 to 18 months, that’s incredible, but we also have the therapies - antivirals and monoclonal antibodies that could -- I say could,  deliver faster,” he said.

“The one drug is right now it’s called Remdesivir. It’s an experimental drug -  antiviral. It’s in clinical trials right now. A two-arm clinical trial in China as well as at the University of Nebraska here in the United States, and it could be in several months we'll see preliminary data on the early stage testing,” Azar said.

Vice President Mike Pence and the secretary announced Tuesday that the administration is lifting all restrictions on screening and testing, which means “if your doctor or public health official think you ought to get tested you're gonna be able to be tested,” Azar said.

“We have tested thousands of samples already. We haven't had a backlog at the CDC with a highly validated test that CDC did. We've had that out for weeks in 12 labs around the country, but we're radically expanding the capability to test in the United States,” he said.

“We had been doing as other industrialized countries had been doing, guidelines for testing of individuals who had traveled to affected areas or severe respiratory system, but now that we have capacity up and running, we’re saying, if anybody thinks that they have an issue, if their doctor or public health say they should get tested, they should get tested,” the secretary said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is shipping testing capability for over a million coronavirus tests to hospitals and labs, and the administration is lifting regulatory burdens so that the private sector can come up with its own test, which should lead to millions of available tests, according to Azar.

“The CDC is shipping tests that will enable 75,000 tests this week. The CDC's private contractor that has the CDC test is also shipping over a million testing capability to hospitals and labs and others who want that. And then the vice president and I are working with the private sector and have unleashed the regulatory burden to let the private sector come up with their own test without waiting for FDA approval. We'll see millions and millions and millions of available tests also through that,” he said.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) “designed a vaccine within three days of getting the genetic sequence of this virus from China.”

“They actually designed a vaccine within three days of getting the genetic sequence of this virus from China. Then we worked in just two days ago. The FDA granted approval for the NIH - that’s Dr. Fauci’s group - to begin what's called phase one clinical testing in five weeks,” Azar said.

“That's where we'll test the safety of the vaccine probably in 40 to 50 people. It’s gonna take overall 12 to 18 months, though, before you could see a possible vaccine, because you are putting a vaccine in otherwise healthy people, so it must be incredibly safe as well as effective. So we're talking a lot more about the therapeutics that may be getting developed,” he said.

“Existing medicines are getting tested as we speak on people with the virus, because somebody who has the virus your safety efficacy balance is a little bit different because you’re gonna see if that works,” the secretary said.

Fox News host Ed Henry noted that according to World Health Organization officials, about 3.4 percent of those who get the coronavirus die, which is worse than the flu, but officials say it’s harder to transmit the coronavirus than it is the flu.

“That may be some good news. What else have we learned in the last few days, the last couple of weeks that you didn't know at the beginning of this crisis?” Henry asked.

“We keep learning about the fatality rates. One of the things we're gonna learn from the rapid expansion of testing here in the united States is just how many people might get mild to moderate symptoms, basically think they have the cold or call it the flu but don't actually get diagnosed. Now we're gonna get more diagnoses and see what the prevalence rate is out there,” Azar said.

“That impacts the denominator on the fatality rate. How many people are unfortunately passing away versus how many are infected. So those numbers could revise as we get greater clarity.  One of the other things we learned about fatalities is so far globally, it does seems it's the more elderly and medically frail most likely to succumb to this virus, and we’re seeing very few if any children succumbing to it in terms of fatality,” he said.

“From the president on down the administration is trying to project calm as you are this morning. Now NCAA officials are going through this issue of considering whether or not to move forward with March Madness, college basketball for men and women without crowds. They haven't made that decision yet. If they decide to not have crowds, would it send the wrong message and scare people in your view?” Henry asked.

Azar said the risk of people getting the coronavirus is low, “and it remains that way, but for people who are close to anyone who is impacted the risk is higher, but this is a rapidly evolving situation.”

“We're learning more every day, every hour, and so as the NCAA or businesses think about their actions, we're saying use common sense. We're gonna give you guidance if we have science and evidence to back it up, but use common sense right now as you think about travel that you are going to do,” he said.


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