CDC Plans for October COVID-19 Vaccine 'Like the Boy Scouts Motto, Be Prepared,' NIH Head Says

After the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told states to prepare to distribute a potential coronavirus vaccine by late October, the director of the National Institutes for Health (NIH) has said it is "unlikely" a shot will be ready by then.

Dr. Francis Collins told CNN: "This is like the Boy Scout motto, 'Be Prepared.' Even if it's very low likelihood, if everything happened to come together really beautifully and we had an answer by then and we knew we had a vaccine that was safe and effective, wouldn't you want people to be ready to figure out how to do the distribution? That's all that CDC is saying."

Collins said: "Now keep in mind that the likelihood of that is pretty low."

His comments came after the CDC told public health officials in all states and territories, as well as the cities of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston and San Antonio, to plan to administer hypothetical coronavirus vaccines to high-risk groups by late October or early November, around the time of the upcoming presidential election. Newsweek has contacted the CDC for comment.

The priority groups included healthcare and long-term care workers, national security populations, to-be-determined essential workers, and others at risk of catching coronavirus and or having serious COVID-19. These include the over 65s, Native Americans, racial and ethnic minorities, the incarcerated and those attending colleges and universities.

The guidance sent out on August 27 referred to two hypothetical candidates, Vaccine A and Vaccine B. Each requiring two shots several weeks apart, the candidates appeared to mirror the vaccines being developed by Pfizer and Moderna. Newsweek has contacted both companies for comment.

One document obtained by The New York Times stated: "These scenarios are designed to support jurisdictional, federal, and partner planning, but they are still considered hypothetical. The COVID-19 vaccine landscape is evolving and uncertain, and these scenarios may evolve as more information is available."

It said planners should "assume that by January 2021 significantly more COVID-19 vaccine will be available for distribution and plans will need to evolve to address additional vaccine availability."

The documents suggest the vaccines could be rolled out following an emergency use authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has a lower threshold than approval.

On Sunday, FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn told the Financial Times the agency would issue an EUA for a coronavirus vaccine before Phase Three clinical trials were finished if officials thought the benefits outweighed the risks.

Dr. Anthony Fauci later told health news website KHN a coronavirus vaccine may arrive earlier than anticipated if results from trials are overwhelmingly positive.

Earlier this week, experts told Newsweek they feared the prospect of the FDA granting an EUA risked posing safety hazards, boosting the anti-vaccine movement, and undermining public confidence not only in a coronavirus vaccine but others.

Julie Kalabalik-Hoganson, associate professor of pharmacy practice at Fairleigh Dickinson University School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, told Newsweek at the time: "Expediting a coronavirus vaccine should not come at the cost of patient safety.

"A premature EUA issuance and failure of the vaccine could have a negative impact on the public's trust of the FDA and the vaccine approval process. The scientific evidence should drive the process, not external factors."

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National Health Institute Director Francis S. Collins holds a model of the coronavirus, as he testifies at a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on manufacturing a Coronavirus vaccine on Capitol Hill on July 2, 2020 in Washington, DC. Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images