WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci says scientists are already preparing to upgrade COVID-19 vaccines to address the variants of the coronavirus now circulating in the United Kingdom and South Africa. He also had hope about a potential third vaccine that could get FDA approval soon.
Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, says those variants are not only more infectious but they do not respond as well to the monoclonal antibodies that have been used in treating patients. He said he was especially concerned about the South African variant, which he described as “different and more ominous than the one in the UK.”
”The data has not come out officially, but taking a look at the preliminary data that the UK scientists have analyzed, I’m pretty convinced that there is a degree of increase in seriousness of the actual infection, which we really have to keep an eye on,” Fauci told NBC’s “Today.”
Fauci said there is also “a very slight, modest diminution” of the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against those variants but “there’s enough cushion with the vaccines that we have that we still consider them to be effective against both the UK strain and the South Africa strain.”
As concerns about supply threaten to derail vaccination efforts, Fauci had hopeful predictions for an anticipated one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.
"I don’t want to get ahead of them, but I would be surprised if it was more than 2 weeks from now that data would be analyzed and decisions would be made," Fauci told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on Friday evening.
Johnson & Johnson released preliminary results of their phase 1/2 studies earlier this month, and at the time said they hoped to have "topline Phase 3 data for its single-dose Janssen COVID-19 vaccine candidate in late January 2021." They went on to say that if data showed it was safe and effective, they would submit an emergency use authorization application to the FDA "shortly afterwards."
Fauci said if Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is safe and effective, and gets FDA approval, it would be good "because it gives a wider range of flexibility."
Johnson and Johnson's vaccine is showing it is effective with just one dose, rather than the two doses for the Pfizer and Moderna version of the COVID-19 vaccine. Also, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate has a “less stringent cold-chain requirement," Fauci explained, meaning it does not have to remain in as cold of containers as the other two vaccines, potentially meaning it can be transported to more areas of the country for vaccination.