US health officials say human trials on coronavirus vaccine to start in 6 weeks

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Passengers arrive at LAX from Shanghai, China, after a positive case of the coronavirus was announced in the Orange County suburb of Los Angeles, California, January 26, 2020.

Ringo Chiu | Reuters

Human trials testing a potential vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus are expected to begin in six weeks, U.S. health officials announced Tuesday.

“We are on time at least and maybe even a little bit better,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, told reporters at a press conference. “Hopefully, no further glitches.”

The White House reportedly asked Congress on Monday for $1.25 billion , including money to develop a vaccine and therapeutics to treat the virus. The National Institutes of Health has been working with biotech company Moderna to develop a vaccine using the current strain of the coronavirus.

Hopes to get a vaccine to market are high, but doctors want expectations to be low for how quickly it can happen. Developing, testing and reviewing any potential vaccine is a long, complex and expensive endeavor that could take months or even years, global health experts say. Before researchers can begin human trials, they must have a firm understanding of the pathogen, run safety tests and find enough human volunteers.

Fauci said Tuesday that the potential vaccine has so far been put into mice and is immunogenic. “It’s now getting ready to go through the regulatory issues of getting it to go,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined what schools and businesses will likely need to do if the COVID-19 virus becomes an epidemic outbreak in the U.S.

“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare for the expectation that this could be bad,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call.

The CDC late Monday confirmed 53 cases in the U.S., a majority of which came from passengers repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined off the coast of Japan. The data shows that 36 of the cases are attributed to the cruise ship, three patients were infected in Wuhan and later evacuated to the U.S., and the rest were largely infected while traveling overseas.

Just two cases were contracted through person-to-person contact in the U.S., the CDC said.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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