Fauci says first U.S. COVID-19 vaccines could ship late December or early January

FILE PHOTO: Anthony Fauci, MD, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, testifies during a U.S. Senate Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Hearing to examine COVID-19, focusing on an update on the federal response at the U.S. Capitol Washington, D.C., U.S., September 23, 2020. Graeme Jennings/Pool via REUTERS

CHICAGO (Reuters) - If all goes well, the first doses of a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine will likely become available to some high-risk Americans in late December or early January, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious diseases expert, said on Thursday.

Based on current projections from vaccine front-runners Moderna Inc and Pfizer Inc , Americans will likely know "sometime in December whether or not we have a safe and effective vaccine," Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a live chat on Twitter and Facebook.

"The first interim look (at trial results) should be, we hope, within the next few weeks," he said.

Both companies started the final stage of clinical testing in late July with tens of thousands of people taking part in each trial.

Moderna earlier on Thursday said it was on track to deliver interim data from its large, late-stage trial next month.

Pfizer, which was expected to announce interim data in October, is now unlikely to release data before November, probably after the Nov 3. U.S. presidential election.

The data will then need to be reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which will make recommendations on who gets the first doses if the trials prove successful.

Practically speaking, Fauci said, the first vaccine doses would likely be deployed to individuals deemed most in need "by the end of December or the beginning of January."

Fauci's comments were part of a conversation with Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, who took questions from listeners.

Even with an effective vaccine to protect against the virus, Fauci said it will take time to get back to something approaching normal as vaccine-induced immunity builds both nationally and globally. He said life will likely not get back to normal "until the end of 2021 at least."

In the interim, Collins urged Americans to be prepared to continue wearing masks and maintain social distancing.

"I know Americans are tired of these measures. Tired of wearing masks. Tired of not being able to congregate together," Collins said. "But we've got a long road yet to go."

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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