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A Vaccine By End Of Year Is ‘Wishful Thinking,’ Says Former FDA Commissioner

Dr. Margaret Hamburg at Spotlight Health, Aspen Ideas Festival, in 2015

This week, a promising preliminary trial buoyed hopes that a vaccine for the novel coronavirus might be available before 2021, and global stocks rose on the possibility of an accelerated recovery.

But according to Dr. Margaret Hamburg, who served as Food and Drug Administration commissioner from 2009 to 2015, every single facet of the convoluted and risky vaccine approval process would have to go perfectly in order for a vaccine to be available this year. Speaking on Walker & Dunlop’s weekly webcast, Hamburg urged optimism, but also a large dosage of caution.

“I don’t see any way to develop, assess and manufacture a vaccine and put it forward into very broad consumption by the end of this year,” Hamburg said. “It is theoretically possible, if it all went right, but it seems like wishful thinking to me.”

While reopening state economies may help bottom lines across the industry, real estate professionals have been banking on a highly effective treatment or a vaccine in order to return offices, apartment buildings, hotels, retail outlets and construction sites back to normalcy.

Without medical therapies, the fear of a second wave of coronavirus deaths could dampen any kind of recovery for CRE owners, investors and developers.

The coronavirus has spurred an unprecedented amount of medical and biotechnical research. Hamburg was hopeful that one or more of the dozens of potential vaccines that are currently being studied will pan out, but said there is a danger in overpromising scientific results to the public. In 1984, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler stated that an HIV vaccine would be ready for testing within two years. So far, no such vaccine exists.

One of the best ways to ensure innovation in the biomedical field, Hamburg said, is to reset economic incentives, which often push drug developers to go after chronic illnesses like arthritis or high cholesterol. By encouraging drug companies to devise therapies for as-yet-undiscovered pathogens, governments and nonprofit organizations can help prevent the next pandemic.

Most of all, Hamburg stressed that the U.S. must not become complacent in the ongoing fight against the coronavirus. Even though hospitals are emptier, we are far from reaching the herd immunity that we need to prevent a second wave of infection, and current testing levels are inadequate to support a full reopening of the American economy.

“We are not on a straight smooth cruise to the finish line,” Hamburg said. “We’re going to have many bumps along the way.”

Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker

Here are a few other quick hits from this week’s webcast about the state of commercial real estate:

  • With the unemployment rate sky-high, issuing stimulus money is going to be a necessity, Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker said. Walker pointed out that even if the economy put 2 million people back to work every month for the next year — which would be an astounding rate — there would still be more unemployed Americans in May 2021 than at any time during the last recession.
  • Walker & Dunlop awarded two multifamily investment sales this week to buyers, one for $52M and one for $42M. While those deals would be small potatoes during an average week, Walker said, they represented an incredible shift in sentiment from the end of April, when speculation abounded  about the utter collapse of the economy.

Next week, the Walker Webcast will host a discussion about reopening the American economy with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and Walker & Dunlop. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.