FLASHBACK: New York Times said having coronavirus vaccine within 18 months was ‘impossible’

This week marks one year since a New York Times article said having a coronavirus vaccine by the end of 2021 was likely “impossible.” For the Times’ opinion section, Stuart Thompson quoted infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said last April that a vaccine could arrive within 12 to 18 months. “The grim truth behind this rosy forecast is that a vaccine probably won’t arrive any time soon,” Thompson wrote on April 30. “Clinical trials seldom succeed. We’ve never released a coronavirus vaccine for humans before … Here’s how we might achieve the impossible.”


The story included an interactive timeline that showed a vaccine under typical circumstances would not arrive until 2033. Thompson spoke with experts who described different ways that could speed up the timeline, but the piece’s thrust was to show the Trump administration’s goal was implausible. A year later, the U.S. has administered more than 200 million doses from three different vaccine manufacturers. Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s public-private partnership to push rapid vaccine development, has received bipartisan credit for removing hurdles and providing the funding to help make that possible. One cell biologist Thompson spoke to said a vaccine likely wouldn’t be approved until 2021 or 2022 at the earliest, and “this is very optimistic and of relatively low probability.” Even if various hurdles were cleared, such as sped-up trials and clinical research, Thompson still doubted the timeline.


“Researchers might produce a viable vaccine in just 12 to 18 months, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get it,” Thompson wrote. “Millions of people could be in line before you. And that’s only if the United States finds a vaccine first. If another country, like China, beats us to it, we could wait even longer while it doses its citizens first.” Reminded of the story this month, Thompson wrote on April 7 he deleted his original tweet about it and said the “entire pt of the article was showing steps to take a long vaccine timeline and make it short.”

The story echoed news coverage at the time that cast doubt on an effective vaccine being available quickly. One widely mocked NBC News “fact-check” quoted experts saying the Trump administration would need a “miracle” to be right; critics at the time noted predictions can’t be fact-checked. 3D Robotics CEO and former Wired Magazine editor Chris Anderson called out the Times in a Twitter thread, saying some of its assumptions that would slow down the timeline were “baffling.” The Washington Examiner’s Becket Adams couldn’t resist using the “Missed it by that much” meme to poke fun at the Times.

Tyson Houlding
I’m a lifestyle blogger with a passion for writing, photography, and exploring new places. I started this blog when I was 18 years old to share what I was learning about the world with family and friends. I’ve since grown into a freelance writer, blogger, and photographer with a growing audience. I hope you find inspiration and motivation while reading through my work!