Fauci: Chances of highly effective coronavirus vaccine 'not great'

Public health officials are willing to accept an effectiveness rate of just 50%.

Updated: August 8, 2020 - 1:07pm

Public health expert and White House Coronavirus Task Force leader Anthony Fauci said this week that it is unlikely that any coronavirus vaccine will be highly effective, echoing claims from public health officials that a vaccine of just 50% effectivity would be an acceptable outcome. 

From the start of the pandemic and through the intervening months, many experts and commentators have insisted that regular, pre-pandemic life will never return unless a vaccine is developed and deployed throughout most of the world. Scientists for months have been scrambling to develop a vaccine in a lightning-quick timeframe, with numerous trials currently underway across the planet. 

Fauci himself has repeatedly stressed the need to fast-track a coronavirus vaccine. Yet during a Brown University webinar on Friday, the doctor said the eventual vaccine's effectiveness could be as low as 50%, something FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn has signaled would be an acceptable floor. 

"I’d like it to be 75% or more,” Fauci said on Friday. "But the chances of it being 98% effective is not great, which means you must never abandon the public health approach.”

It is not clear if Fauci was suggesting that coronavirus pandemic mitigation measures would have to remain in place forever or if they might eventually be relaxed regardless of the vaccine's effectiveness. 

The timetable for developing the COVID-19 vaccine has been extraordinarily shortened compared to standard vaccine development. International AIDS Vaccine Initiative President Mark Feinberg said in March that the "traditional vaccine timeline is 15 to 20 years," and that health officials needed "new approaches" if they planned to roll out a COVID-19 vaccine in less time than that.