Three of the nation’s top medical experts told a Senate panel Thursday considerable financial risks are being taken as part of Operation Warp Speed in the development of vaccines and therapeutics to fight the coronavirus pandemic, characterized as the “most significant public health challenge” in a century.
Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Gary Disbrow, acting director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, testified before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.
Disbrow and Collins said production for vaccines, therapeutic drugs and testing has been ramped up even as evaluations still are underway.
“We need to take financial risks to expedite the vaccines and therapeutics. The key to success is to invest in multiple candidates and support parallel development activities. The risk is purely financial. … This is the financial risk we must take because the risks and lives lost and the impact to our community is far greater,” Disbrow said, emphasizing safety and efficacy will not be sacrificed.
He said investment is being made in “multiple technologies to increase our chances of success.” The only signed production contract so far is with AstraZeneca, Disbrow said.
Collins said he is “optimistic that the goal we have set to have a vaccine that works and is safe by the end of 2020 will be met by one of the vaccines … and that we would then have by early 2021, 300 million doses of a vaccine that’s safe and effective.”
Collins said one avenue of vaccine research that is not being pursued is use of an inactivated virus because of the risks involved.
In the absence of a vaccine, Collins said development of a rapid point-of-care test is essential to allow people to “have a chance to have some normal experiences of enjoying life.” He said he hopes such a test, which would provide results within an hour, is hoped to be ready by September.
“COVID-19 is the most significant public health challenge that our nation has faced in more than a century,” Redfield told lawmakers, urging Americans to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands to mitigate spread of the virus in the absence of a vaccine.
He urged Americans to embrace the flu vaccine to reduce the strain on the health system.
The testimony came a day after the daily count of new cases reached more than 52,000. Florida on Thursday reported 10,109 new cases as the overall number of cases nationwide hit more than 2.7 million. More than 128,400 people have died.