NIH Chief Sees Likely Need for Multiple Vaccines to Fight Virus

Several vaccines will likely be needed to combat the coronavirus and immunize groups of people in the U.S. and abroad, U.S. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said in an interview.

Collins, 70, is a physician and geneticist who leads the agency overseeing the U.S. research response to the virus. He spoke with Bloomberg News by phone on Monday and discussed the efforts to develop and manufacture a vaccine, potential mutations of the virus and what it means for immunity, and how inoculations would be tested.

“My expectation is, and I am a bit of an optimist, that we don’t find out that there’s only one of these vaccines that works, but rather two or three of them come through the trials looking as though they’re safe and effective,” Collins said. “They’ll have somewhat different characteristics of where they work best, so we might need to do some matching then of which vaccine goes to which particular population.”

Collins, who began leading the NIH in 2009 under then-President Barack Obama, said there’s enough money to rapidly manufacture 100 million vaccine doses by late fall and 300 million before January. The first people to get a vaccine will likely be frontline health workers and those with chronic conditions that put them at greater risk from the illness.

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“A lot is going to depend on what we learn about efficacy,” particularly how well the inoculations perform among the elderly, Collins said.

In April, the NIH launched a partnership in April between government health agencies and 16 biopharmaceutical companies with the goal of expediting development and production. Known as Activ, or Accelerating Covid-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines, the group’s efforts appear toclosely resemble a program touted by the White House called Operation Warp Speed, which is also meant to accelerate vaccine development.

“I think we’re actually in a very good place,” Collins said. “Funding will not be a limiting factor,” and could be used to support research efforts or increase manufacturing. Many of the program’s details are outlined in apaper published in the journal Science on Monday, co-authored by Collins with Larry Corey of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases, and John Mascola, the director of the NIAID Vaccine Research Center.

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