Health officials eyeing at least one of 14 potential coronavirus vaccines to fast-track

The hope is that one of the potential vaccines being tested under "Operation Warp Speed" will be available for use as early as January.
/ Source: NBC News

There are 14 potential coronavirus vaccines under development as part of President Donald Trump's administration's program to fast-track one for use as early as January, senior administration officials tell NBC News.

That number was whittled down several weeks ago from 93 vaccines in development that were studied as part of the program, known as “Operation Warp Speed,” officials said.

Over the next two weeks, the 14 remaining vaccines will undergo additional testing and officials expect that anywhere from six to eight of them will make it to a subsequent round of clinical trials. Ultimately, the officials said, the goal is to have three or four vaccines make it through final testing and cleared for use early next year.

The officials, who discussed the program’s progress on the condition of anonymity, said there is no guarantee that any of the 14 remaining coronavirus vaccines will make it to the end of the process, but they are optimistic about the chances.

“Can I say with 100 percent certainty? No,” one of the officials said. “There is a reasonable probability that one or more of these vaccines will be successful.”

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The bigger concern, officials said, is how to quickly make the vaccine for more than 300 million Americans once they find one that works.

Trump has hailed the program and said Thursday that he is personally overseeing it and promised “to fast-track it like you've never seen before.”

The senior administration officials who agreed to discuss the details said the 93 vaccines from several weeks ago came from more than 80 pharmaceutical companies. They said the next major milestone in the project will be in two weeks when the government will seek participants for clinical trials on the vaccines that make it out of the 14 that currently remain.

From there, the officials said those viruses will be scrutinized at a “microscopic level” for further winnowing down.

“It’s a constant reevaluation,” one of the officials said.

They reiterated that the program will cost billions of dollars that they said would come from pre-existing government funds, but they didn’t give a specific figure. They added American taxpayers will cover much of the financial burden instead of working out a deal with drug companies as a way to expedite the process.

At this point it will not require congressional approval.

The officials didn’t guarantee that any vaccine that comes out of the program would be free to all Americans though they suggested that could be part of the return on the government’s investment as part of the public-private partnership.

Officials said they are able to fast-track the vaccine because multiple phases of the process to get one are happening at the same time, such as clinical trials and working out a distribution chain.

They said one approach to distribution initially could be to dispense it in a way designed to stop transmission of the virus as fast as possible, such as first to nursing home facilities, first responders and other people who interact often with the public.

A number of agencies are working on the project, including the Health and Human Services Department, Veterans Affairs, the Agriculture Department and the Pentagon.