Fauci offers defense of why Americans can trust the approval process for a potential COVID-19 vaccine

A potential COVID-19 vaccine is likely to approved in November or December, but the announcement of any such vaccine will not be based in any way on a political timeline, infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, M.D., said Tuesday evening during The Atlantic Festival.

"The data will determine the announcement," said Fauci, director of the National Institutes for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. 

He was addressing questions of political interference in the process that have been raised in recent weeks as President Donald Trump has indicated a vaccine could be announced before the presidential election. 

Public health experts have raised alarm that Americans might lose trust in any vaccine that is ultimately approved. An editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association called for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take steps to reassure the public and clinical community about the scientific review and approval of a COVID-19 vaccine.

A recent poll from Axios and Ipsos found a majority of Americans would be unlikely to take a vaccine for COVID-19 immediately when one becomes available.

There are three vaccine candidates in phase 3 trials and a fourth that is close to phase 3 trials. Each of those trials has a data and safety monitoring board that is a group of scientists, ethicists and statisticians who look at the data from the trials intermittently, Fauci said. 

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The FDA examines those data with an advisory board, and they become public, he said.

"So any decision about whether or not you can approve a vaccine is going to be very transparent," Fauci said. "If someone tries to make an end run, that's going to be clearly obvious." 

As for his expectations about what the timeline would be, he continued to say he's "cautiously optimistic" there will be a vaccine by the end of the year. 

"We hope that by the time we get to late fall and early winter, November and December, we will know whether a vaccine is safe and effective. There is never a guarantee," Fauci said. "I'm cautiously optimistic looking at the initial data from some of the phase 1 trials that we will, in fact, be successful. How successful we'll be is to look at the results of the clinical trial." 

Fauci is scheduled to speak Wednesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee alongside FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, M.D., and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, M.D. They are expected to give an update on the federal response to COVID-19.