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U.S. to expedite coronavirus vaccine efforts

The CDC thinks the virus could prove to be a seasonal affliction like the flu

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With the coronavirus -- COVID-19 -- spreading around the world with increasing speed, U.S. health officials are stepping up efforts to contain it.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says human trials on a potential vaccine should begin by late March or early April. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, an agency within HHS, told reporters that he’s optimistic that the vaccine-makers are a little ahead of the curve.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has begun a randomized controlled trial for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. 

“While sponsors are usually expected to allow 30 days between submission and initiation of an initial IND protocol to allow for safety review, FDA has been using both pre-IND discussions and highly expedited initial review to allow such trials to begin as soon as possible,” the agency said in a statement.

No drug shortages yet

The FDA says it is monitoring the market for potential drug shortages and phony treatment scams. The agency has identified about 20 drugs that either solely source their active ingredients or produce finished drug products in China and has contacted their manufacturers to see if they have experienced any supply issues. So far it has found no shortages.

The Trump administration has reportedly asked Congress for additional funding to beef up the government’s response to the virus, which has proved to be highly contagious and deadly to about 2 percent of the people who get it.

Might follow a flu-like pattern

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sounded an optimistic note on Tuesday when it said there is a theory that the virus will prove to be a seasonal affliction much like the flu and begin to subside in warmer weather.

“Other viral respiratory diseases are seasonal, including influenza and therefore in many viral respiratory diseases we do see a decrease in disease in spring and summer,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, in a briefing with reporters. “And so we can certainly be optimistic that this disease will follow suit.”

The CDC reported Tuesday that there had been 53 confirmed cases of COVID-19 coronavirus in the United States. But the agency characterized the risk for transmission as "low."

Still, it said the country’s healthcare system should take steps to prepare for an outbreak, including “simple daily precautions to help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses."

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