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Virus Vaccine Trial, Faster Testing Are Bright Spots in Outbreak

March 16, 2020, 4:55 PMUpdated: March 16, 2020, 6:44 PM

The first human trial for a Covid-19 vaccine and steps to speed up coronavirus testing were small glimmers of hope as the virus spreads across the U.S.

The good news comes as the school and business closures sweep across the country and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended against any gathering larger than 50 people for the next eight weeks.

While a commercial coronavirus vaccine is likely more than a year away, the first human trial, which started Monday in the Seattle area, is advancing at an unheard of pace for medical research. Seattle is the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, with 42 of the 69 deaths in the nation.

“Finding a safe and effective vaccine to prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2 is an urgent public health priority,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony S. Fauci, said in a statement. “This Phase 1 study, launched in record speed, is an important first step toward achieving that goal.”

There are no vaccines or therapies to combat the SARS-Cov2, virus that causes the respiratory disease known as Covid-19, nor are there any approved treatments or vaccines for any other coronaviruses, like SARS and MERS.

GlaxoSmithKline announced last month that it is also working with the Chinese-based Clover Biopharmaceuticals on an experimental vaccine. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is working with Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson on potential vaccines.

While patients are waiting for a vaccine, the wait time to get tested for the coronavirus should shrink after the Food and Drug Administration took steps to speed up testing. The Trump administration has been widely criticized for its failure to make tests readily available as the virus spreads.

The change, which FDA head Stephen Hahn tweeted Monday morning cuts red tape by letting labs conducting the tests certify the results themselves without waiting for confirmation from the CDC.

Doctors had waited as much as a week for the results previously. Allowing local labs to certify the results themselves will not only speed up the process but also uses fewer tests per patient, Hahn said.

(Updates with additional reporting throughout.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at jbaumann@bloomberglaw.com; Jacquie Lee in Washington at jlee1@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Childers at achilders@bloomberglaw.com

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