Fauci confident virus vaccine will get to Americans in 2021

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, adjusts his face mask during a hearing Friday by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on Capitol Hill in Washington.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday that he remains confident that a coronavirus vaccine will be ready by early next year, telling lawmakers that a quarter-million Americans already have volunteered to take part in clinical trials.

But if the future looks encouraging, public health alarms are still going off in the present. Officials testifying with Fauci at a contentious House hearing acknowledged that the U.S. remains unable to deliver all COVID-19 test results within two or three days, and they jointly pleaded with Americans to comply with basic precautions such as wearing masks, avoiding crowds, and washing their hands frequently.

Those simple steps can deliver “the same bang for the buck as if we just shut the entire economy down,” said a frustrated Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding that he has studies to back that up.

Looking ahead, Fauci said he’s “cautiously optimistic that we will have a vaccine by the end of this year and as we go into 2021. I don’t think it’s dreaming ... I believe it’s a reality [and] will be shown to be reality.” As the government’s top infectious disease expert, Fauci heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Under White House orders, federal health agencies and the Defense Department are carrying out a plan dubbed Operation Warp Speed to deliver 300 million vaccine doses on a compressed timeline. That will happen only after the Food and Drug Administration determines that one or more vaccines are safe and effective. Several candidates are being tested.

Don’t look for a mass nationwide vaccination right away, Fauci told lawmakers. There will be a priority list based on recommendations from scientific advisers. Topping the list could be critical workers, such as medical personnel, or vulnerable groups of people such as older adults with other underlying health problems.

“But ultimately, within a reasonable period of time, the plans now allow for any American who needs a vaccine to get it within the year 2021,” Fauci said.

Fauci, Redfield, and Department of Health and Human Services “testing czar” Admiral Brett Giroir testified at a moment when early progress against the coronavirus seems to have been frittered away. High numbers of new cases cloud the nation’s path.

More than 4.5 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, and more than 153,000 have died, according to Friday’s tally from Johns Hopkins University. In recent weeks the virus has rebounded in the South and West, and now upticks are being seen in the Midwest. Testing bottlenecks remain a major issue.

Asked if it’s possible to deliver coronavirus test results to patients within 48 to 72 hours, Giroir acknowledged that “it is not a possible benchmark we can achieve today given the demand and supply.”

Rapid, widespread testing is critical to containing the pandemic. It makes it easier for public health workers to trace the contacts of an infected person. Delayed test results only allow more people to get infected.

While hospitals can generally deliver in-house test results within 24 hours, large commercial labs that do about half the testing for the country take longer, particularly if there’s a surge in new cases. The latest government data shows about 75% of test results are coming back within 5 days, but the remainder are taking longer, Giroir told lawmakers.

Giroir did say a two- to three-day turnaround “is absolutely a benchmark we can achieve moving forward.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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