Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease expert in the US, predicted positive data from a second Covid-19 vaccine could come quickly on the heels of this week’s strong trial results from Pfizer and BioNTech.
US biotech company Moderna will begin assessing data from its Phase 3 vaccine trials “within a week”, Dr Fauci revealed at the FT Live Global Pharmaceutical Summit on Wednesday.
He said he would “be surprised if we didn’t see a similar degree of efficacy” to the positive results released by Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday, given that the vaccine is “identical in many respects”.
“We were told that literally in the next few days to a week they’ll be doing the same thing of looking at the data as the Pfizer people did a week ago,” he said.
Dr Fauci leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is working with Moderna to develop its vaccine and is contributing funding to the phase 3 trial. Moderna did not respond to a request for comment.
Shares in Moderna were up 7 per cent in afternoon trading in New York.
Dr Fauci said the results from the vaccine being developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, which demonstrated 90 per cent efficacy, were better than he hoped. “I didn’t expect we would have a result as striking as this.”
The successful data to date for the novel mRNA platform used by both Moderna and Pfizer is “a major step not only for Covid-19 but for the entire field of vaccinology”, he said.
Dr Fauci is one of the most prominent members of the current White House coronavirus task force, although he has found himself increasingly at odds with Donald Trump as the pandemic has worsened, with his messages of caution clashing with the president’s desire to lift restrictions and boost the economy.
On Wednesday, Dr Fauci said he had not yet spoken with Joe Biden, the Democratic US president-elect who beat Mr Trump in last week’s election. Mr Biden has already set up his own Covid-19 task force to try to ensure he is ready when he takes over in January.
In a tense week after the election, which Mr Trump has yet to concede, Dr Fauci added that he was trying to keep from talking about politics “because it is so sensitive right now”.
Dr Fauci described the unprecedented rise in cases across the US, which he said were “almost at an exponential level”, as “really quite disturbing”. The US has registered more than 10m coronavirus cases and more than 230,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project.
As the US approaches the Thanksgiving holiday, Dr Fauci, 79, warned people to be careful about travelling and socialising if they had vulnerable family members. He said his daughters were not coming home because they wanted to protect him.
“As much as you don’t like to say you’re elderly, well in fact I am,” he said. “We don’t want to shut down Thanksgiving, but we’re asking people to consider the risk-benefit of a large family gathering.”
He cautioned that the world was still “very, very far from victory” over the pandemic, and said that there would need to be global co-operation to “intensify our efforts of control” and “double down on the public health measures”.
He added that it was likely that Covid-19 would remain endemic — native and widespread — for years to come.
“I don’t think it’s going to be one and done, it will become an indolent level,” he said, adding that “people may be re-susceptible” to infection from the virus.
Additional reporting by Donato Paolo Mancini