A COVID-19 vaccine in early November? 'Extremely unlikely, but not impossible': Warp Speed head Slaoui

slaoui
Moncef Slaoui, a former GSK executive, was named Warp Speed head in May. (White House)

With COVID-19 vaccine hype intensifying each day—including this week, with new comments from Pfizer’s CEO—the head of the U.S. government’s research program said it's "extremely unlikely" a vaccine will be available in early November.

Moncef Slaoui, the Operation Warp Speed head, told NPR it remains “extremely unlikely, but not impossible" a vaccine will be ready by early November. Operation Warp Speed, a multibillion-dollar research program aimed at delivering 300 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by January, is performing “even better than I was hoping,” he said. With that, "there is a very, very low chance that the trials that are running as we speak could read before the end of October" and help score an emergency use authorization or approval.

Slaoui's comments diverge from those of Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, who this week said his company expects enough data in late October to make a decision about an FDA submission. In fact, the drug giant is already preparing its submission in case the vaccine shows early efficacy in the trial, Bourla said.

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Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with states and localities to prepare vaccine distribution sites for Nov. 1, according to press reports from earlier this week. Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines are already in late-stage testing, but it’s unclear when the studies will produce sufficient safety and efficacy data. It's also unclear how long it would take to get data published and how long an FDA review would take.

That Nov. 1 target date has raised questions of whether the White House is applying political pressure to speed the vaccine approval process up. President Donald Trump and allies have said a vaccine will be ready by the end of the year or sooner, apparently seeking a political boost with the presidential election two months away. 

RELATED: CDC sets its sights on November COVID-19 vaccine deliveries: report 

On that topic, Slaoui said that for the Warp Speed crew, "there is absolutely nothing to do with politics." 

"Many of us may or may not be supportive of this administration. It's irrelevant, frankly," he noted. In a separate interview, Slaoui told Science he would “immediately resign if there is undue interference in the vaccine process.” 

The former GlaxoSmithKline vaccine exec was named head of Operation Warp Speed back in May. At the time, he said he was “confident” the U.S. would have a vaccine by the end of the year. 

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