Azar lays out optimistic COVID-19 vaccine timeline of 100M doses by end of 2020

Alex Azar
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar laid out an optimistic timeline for approval and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Tina Reed)

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was optimistic that the administration could have 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year but did not promise a vaccine approval before Election Day.

Azar spoke Thursday during an event sponsored by Goldman Sachs to give an update on Operation Warp Speed, a White House effort aiming to speed up development and distribution of a vaccine.

“We may have up to 100 million doses by the end of the year, enough to cover especially vulnerable population,” he said.

Azar added the administration expects to have “enough to cover every American by March or April 2021.”

The reason the doses would be available so quickly is the administration is investing in manufacturing and buying doses of vaccines before they are approved.

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He said that manufacturing has begun on an industrial scale for all six of the vaccine candidates that Operation Warp Speed is pursuing.

“We are also supporting procurement and manufacturing of ancillary supplies,” Azar said.

Azar did not say exactly when he thinks that a vaccine would be approved, side-stepping whether a vaccine will be available before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

His remarks come a few days after the Food and Drug Administration released a new guidance for vaccine developers outlining what data will be needed to get an emergency authorization approval. The new rules outlined in the guidance means the earliest a vaccine could be approved is in late November.

“Being open and clear about the circumstances under which the issuance of an emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine would be appropriate is critical to building public confidence and ensuring the use of COVID-19 vaccines once available,” said Peter Marks, director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, which will decide on a vaccine.

President Trump, who has repeatedly said a vaccine will be available around the election, slammed the guidance as a “political hit job” from the FDA even though the White House approved them.