Speed of COVID vaccine testing did not compromise safety, Fauci says

Dr. Anthony Fauci during a White House press briefing on Nov. 19, 2020.
Dr. Anthony Fauci during a White House press briefing on Nov. 19, 2020. (Image credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Moderna and Pfizer both recently announced that their coronavirus vaccines were around 95% effective in preventing COVID-19. Just one year ago, not a single person knew that the novel coronavirus existed. 

This incredible speed in vaccine development is unprecedented. But it did not compromise the safety of the vaccine or the scientific integrity of the process, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said during a White House Briefing on Thursday (Nov. 19). 

Rather, "it was a reflection of the extraordinary scientific advances in these types of vaccines which allowed us to do things in months that actually took years before," he said. "I really want to settle that concern that people have about that."

Related: Coronavirus live updates

An independent body of people "who have no allegiance to anyone, not to the administration, not to me, not to the companies" were the ones to first review the data from the companies' late stage clinical trials, Fauci said. They were the ones who "deemed it to be sound." 

The companies will soon file for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), which is a permission granted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to unapproved products to be used in emergency situations. The FDA will then examine the data "very carefully," with help from The Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee before making a decision to grant the EUA and eventually a license, Fauci said.

"So we need to put to rest any concept that this was rushed in an inappropriate way," Fauci said. "This is really solid."

Previous surveys have suggested that as many as half the people in the U.S. do not trust the COVID-19 vaccines, which was in part due to the politicized communication around them, Live Science previously reported. But a new Gallup poll that was released on Tuesday (Nov. 17) suggested that more Americans, about 58%, say they are now willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

The "impressive efficacy" of these vaccines "should motivate individuals to realize that this is something you want to participate in," Fauci said. A final analysis of Pfizer's vaccine suggested it was 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 and an initial analysis of Moderna's suggested it was 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19 (they haven't released information from a final analysis yet.) 

The FDA requires that a vaccine be at least 50% effective, according to the latest guidance. By comparison, two doses of the measles vaccine is about 97% effective, and flu vaccines range from about 40% to 60% effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Help is on the way," Fauci said. But "we need to actually double down on the public health measures as we're waiting for that help to come." That means people should intensify public health measures such as wearing masks, keeping social distance, avoiding congregate settings and choosing to meet people outside rather than inside. (People will need to keep doing this until enough immunity is built in the community, even after they get two doses of a vaccine).

The first doses of the vaccines could be delivered at the end of December to high-priority people in the U.S., Fauci said. Previously, he said he expects there will be enough doses by April such that people in the general U.S. public, who are not necessarily high risk, can get them, Live Science reported

There are also a handful of other vaccine candidates that are in late-stage clinical trials and haven't yet released results. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.