• Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that the US could reach a point at which people no longer have to worry about the coronavirus "within the next year to year and a half."
  • Fauci said his cautious optimism comes from the success of vaccine development so far, which could ultimately lead to herd immunity.
  • Moderna just released promising results from the first human trials of its front-running vaccine candidate.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The terror of the coronavirus pandemic could be over within the next year if vaccine development continues to go well, according to Anthony Fauci, the US's top infectious-disease expert.

Even as US COVID-19 case counts continue to rise steeply, efforts to develop a vaccine are "in a pretty good place," Fauci said Tuesday in a livestream hosted by Georgetown University.

"No vaccine is going to be 100% protective. What we hope is that — with the combination of people having already been exposed and a vaccine that's anywhere from 70-75% protective — that there will be enough herd immunity that there will be a time when you and I don't have to worry about getting infected with this awful virus," Fauci said. "And we hope that that time will be reasonably soon… within the next year to year and a half."

He added that he was "cautiously quite optimistic."

Fauci has directed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. His recent comments came shortly after Moderna released results from the company's first human trial of its coronavirus vaccine. Among 45 healthy volunteers, the findings showed, the vaccine stimulated immune responses that could protect people from the virus. 

A 30,000-person study will start in about two weeks to determine if the vaccine actually prevents infection. That's poised to be the first late-stage trial to get underway in the US.

There are now more than 150 other coronavirus vaccine-research programs, with 21 potential immunizations in human testing. 

"If things work out the way we hope they do, I think by the end of this year and the beginning of calendar year 2021, we will have enough information to know whether the [vaccine] candidates that we're dealing with are safe and effective," Fauci said.

For now, however, the coronavirus is still on the rise. Case counts are growing in 39 states and Washington, D.C., according to analysis by The New York Times.

 

"It's a serious situation in the United States," Fauci said. "It's a mixed bag. Some areas of the country are doing really quite well, and others are being challenged."

What's more, the nature of coronavirus immunity is still shrouded in uncertainty. A growing body of research suggests that virus-fighting antibodies may dwindle quickly in the months after a person recovers.

"If you were infected, I can say confidently that you have immunity," Fauci said. "What I can't tell you is how long that immunity is going to last. I would hope that it lasts a substantial period of time, but we don't know."

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