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Ex-Obama adviser Dr. Emanuel explains what it will take for America to 'return to full normalcy'

Chelsea Lombardo
Production Assistant

The U.S. reached a grim milestone on Monday, passing 10,000 coronavirus-related deaths, and according to a prominent physician, the nation won’t move beyond the crisis without a vaccine.

“We're not going to get rid of this, or be past it, or return to full normalcy until that vaccine is available,” Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a former health policy adviser under President Barack Obama, told Yahoo Finance’s “The Ticker” on Monday.

The good news is that Emanuel believes drug makers will come up with a vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Pharmaceutical brands Inovio (INO), Moderna (MRNA) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) have all announced potential vaccines, with Inovio announcing on Monday that it was initiating the first phase of its clinical trial.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 15: Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel speaks onstage at the Klick Health Ideas Exchange on June 15, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Klick Health)

But it could take at least a year for a vaccine to come to market, cautioned Emanuel, who serves as chair for the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I think an effective vaccine is likely,” Emanuel said. “If you talk to the companies that are doing the work, you know, just lay out the timeline to really assess a vaccine for its potential effectiveness, you might get, you know, tens of millions of doses a year from now.”

“And for the general public, you might get a lot of doses available in Q3, Q4 2021,” Emanuel continued. “That's the timeline, and that's what people have to get into their head. And I think, for obvious reasons, politicians are resistant to that, and for, I think, the public hasn't heard it loud and clear despite it being said by public health experts over and over again.”

Despite efforts to contain the virus through social distancing and other measures, over 1.3 million coronavirus cases have been reported worldwide, with numbers climbing higher each day. Last week, New York Times’ Motoko Rich reported that countries and cities across Asia were imposing stricter containment measures amid fears of a second wave of the novel coronavirus.

Three potential coronavirus, COVID-19, vaccines are kept in a tray at Novavax labs in Rockville, Maryland on March 20, 2020, one of the labs developing a vaccine for the coronavirus, COVID-19. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

“If you look at other countries... places like Hong Kong, South Korea. They have seen a resurgence when they've eased up, and that resurgence is what we're likely to see unless we have wide-scale immunity,” Emanuel said. “And I think that's what people have to understand.”

Before that vaccine is available, Emanuel suggested, it’s crucial the U.S. doesn’t get ahead of itself and try to eliminate social distancing measures too quickly. Just Saturday, President Donald Trump said in a briefing, “We have to open our country again.”

In his interview with Yahoo Finance, Emanuel acknowledged that it might be tempting to make America open for business again, with record numbers of Americans filing for unemployment as many businesses in the nation remain shuttered.

“I really worry that what we're doing is having people, who really for obvious and good well-intentioned reasons, want the economy to open up rapidly, don't want businesses to fail, don't want, you know, what we're having — tens of millions of people unemployed,” Emanuel said.

“But we need to be realistic about what is likely and possible given the nature of this virus,” he said. “And the fact that no people in December 2019 had any immunity to this thing and this thing is deadly.”

Chelsea Lombardo is a production assistant for Yahoo Finance. You can find more of her work here.

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