The NIH’s Anthony S. Fauci is “cautiously optimistic” scientists will develop a Covid-19 vaccine that can protect against future outbreaks of a virus he said is unlikely to disappear.
“The very fact that people can mount a natural immune response that gets rid of the virus in them makes me cautiously optimistic that we can develop a vaccine that can mimic natural infection enough to induce that same sort of response that would ultimately protect people,” Fauci said Tuesday at a virtual event hosted by the Economic Club. “There’s never a guarantee of success, but the fact that the body can do it gives me cautious optimism.”
Fauci, who’s overseen the scientific response to every outbreak since HIV, in the past has shied away from making predictions about treatments. His “cautious optimism” that a vaccine could be available in the next 12 to 18 months could indicate that by this winter, there will be enough data to know.
There are 93 vaccine candidates in the research pipeline, according to Faster Cures’ vaccine and treatment tracker. Those include efforts from big drug companies like Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, and GlaxoSmithKline. A vaccine developed in record time by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, along with Moderna Inc., moved into the first-stage of human testing in March.
But there’s been concern that the expectations for a vaccine may be too high, especially as there’s no HIV vaccine despite decades of research.
“For reasons that are very perplexing, the body does not make a very good response against HIV that can protect them,” said Fauci, who’s led the NIAID since 1984.
But the body has a good immune response to respiratory viruses like SARS-Cov-2.
“The very fact that people can mount a natural immune response that gets rid of the virus in them makes me cautiously optimistic that we can develop a vaccine that can mimic natural infection enough to induce that same sort of response that would ultimately protect people,” Fauci said.
Fauci said he’s almost certain the virus will come back in the fall because it’s so transmissible. The virus is popping up in southern Africa as the northern hemisphere moves into summer months, when respiratory viruses tend to go down.
“So it’s not going to disappear from the planet, which means as we get into next season, in my mind it’s inevitable that we will have a return of the virus or maybe it never even went away. When it does, how we handle it will determine our fate,” he said.