A doctor involved in a U.S. coronavirus vaccine study said he is hopeful but not convinced that an injection will be available for circulation this year.
Dr. Carlos del Rio, an Emory University professor of medicine, told CNBC on Friday that a Covid-19 vaccine could be ready in some form for distribution by the end of 2020 but cautioned that it's an unprecedented timeline.
"I am cautiously optimistic," del Rio said on "Power Lunch," echoing comments earlier that day from immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci. "We are developing at a pace that has never been done before."
Atlanta's Emory University is one site testing a Covid-19 vaccine candidate from Moderna, which in March initiated the first U.S. clinical trial for a solution. Fauci, a leading health advisor on the White House's coronavirus response team, in a Friday morning interview on NPR said his projected timetable to develop a vaccine — a 12- to 18-month process — remains "intact" and that it's "conceivable" an injection could be ready to deploy in December.
"Trying to think that, a year after a virus has been identified, we will have a vaccine ready to deploy and ready to go into massive distribution, it's simply mind-boggling to me," del Rio said. "I have to be a little cautious and say I hope it happens, but I don't want to be — I want to make sure we do it the right way."
In a 65-day window, researchers have isolated and identified the virus and begun testing a potential vaccine on humans, del Rio said.
"That has never, ever occurred before," he said.
Moderna's study is being carried out at Emory's Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit and the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle.
While it typically takes a decade of research to develop a vaccine for public use, experts are trying to respond quickly to the coronavirus, which has infected at least 5 million people and was connected to almost 336,000 deaths around the globe as of Friday afternoon, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Moderna, a Massachusetts-based biotech firm working with the National Institutes of Health to fast-track its vaccine candidate, released encouraging data from its phase one study — seen as a safety phase — with 45 participants earlier this week that excited Wall Street investors. The company expects to begin phase two trials, giving doses to 600 participants, soon and phase three in July. The company plans to have a vaccine ready for the market in early 2021.
A vaccine is seen as one key remedy to help people venture out of the house without being worried about contracting the deadly disease and in turn getting the U.S. economy, which is partially open, back in full swing. Del Rio said the entire population would not need to get the vaccine for it to be effective in controlling future outbreaks.
"If you get 40% of people vaccinated and 20% got the disease, you will get to herd immunity," he said. "So that's where we need to get. We don't need to get 100% of people vaccinated. Herd immunity will then help us."
The coronavirus outbreak was first seen in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.