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US is 'building up stockpiles' of coronavirus vaccines, top health official says during Iowa visit

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visited Iowa Thursday to discuss the preparation of COVID-19 vaccines.

DES MOINES, Iowa — If things stay on track with current coronavirus vaccine trials, a vaccine could be available to the public in March or April of next year, according to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Right now, there are four current vaccines that are in phase three: the final step of clinical trials. After phase three is complete, the vaccine is sent to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for a full authorization. 

Following tours of McFarland Clinic in Ames and LifeServe Blood Center in Des Moines with Gov. Kim Reynolds Thursday, Azar said the U.S. is stockpiling vaccines in order to prepare. 

"We are currently manufacturing a vaccine for all six of the vaccines that we have contracted with or invested in," Azar said. "So we literally are building up stockpiles of millions of doses of vaccine as we speak."

Once a vaccine has been fully authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, the most vulnerable groups will be the first ones to get it and to groups of people who have shown to react well to the specific vaccine. 

"Is this a vaccine that works best in your elderly, vulnerable patients in a nursing home? Or is it better suited toward healthcare workers and first responders, for instance," Azar explained. "The data will have to really drive that process. And then we'll just progressively be producing more and more vaccines."

Once a vaccine is approved by the FDA, it could be distributed in the following 24 to 48 hours. 

Many are concerned that the approval process is happening too quick, but Azar says that's because the government removed a lot of the guidelines that are normally in place that slowed the process. 

For example, there is no longer a long wait time between trial phases. 

But Azar assured the public that no corners are being cut and trials that are currently put on hold are proof that the checks are working.

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