Fauci, top health officials to testify: ‘Unclear how long the pandemic will last’

Fauci, top health officials to testify: ‘Unclear how long the pandemic will last’

Fauci, top health officials to testify: ‘Unclear how long the pandemic will last’

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday that he is “cautiously optimistic” that a coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. could prove effective by “late fall or early winter.”

“We hope at the time we get into the late fall and early winter, we will have in fact a vaccine that we can say will be safe and effective. One can never guarantee the safety and effectiveness unless you do the trial, but we are cautiously optimistic,” Fauci said in his opening remarks at a hearing before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

A phase 3 trial of 30,000 people for a coronavirus vaccine has just begun, said Fauci, who encouraged any Americans who are interested in participating to apply for the program. He also touted two treatments, remdesivir and dexamethasone, that have been used to improve people’s chances of surviving.

Asked during the hearing if a vaccine is merely a dream, Fauci said, “I don’t think it’s dreaming, congresswoman, I believe it’s a reality and will be shown to be a reality.”

Fauci, a top infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health, is testifying alongside Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Adm. Brett Giroir, an official within the Department of Health and Human Services who’s leading the government’s efforts on coronavirus testing.

Democrats on the committee are pressing the witnesses on the Trump administration’s coronavirus response as the number of cases and the death toll in the U.S. keeps climbing.

Fauci, a top infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health, is testifying alongside Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Adm. Brett Giroir, an official within the Department of Health and Human Services who’s leading the government’s efforts on coronavirus testing.

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Giroir said in his opening statement that the U.S. “cannot test” its way out of the pandemic and that “testing does not replace personal responsibility,” such as wearing a mask or washing hands. He said that since mid-March, the U.S. has increased testing more than 32,000%, performing more than 59 million COVID-19 tests so far. Giroir also said the nation’s testing has “become strained” because of unprecedented demand.

But, Redfield testified,” We are not defenseless now,” adding that Americans have powerful tools, such as wearing masks, and if they embrace them, the U.S. can get a hold on the pandemic.

In his opening statement, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the chairman of the subcommittee, slammed the federal government, arguing that it has “failed on testing” even as it received warnings from the subcommittee that millions more tests were needed.

Clyburn said that states still face “severe testing shortages” and have been forced to ration tests, limiting them only to the sickest people. This situation is making it “nearly impossible,” he said, to control the spread of the virus and to safely reopen the economy. The chairman called on the Trump administration to provide a national coronavirus response plan that is focused on science and not politics.

“We do not need to lose another 150,000 American lives,” he said. “But if we do not make drastic changes now, this tragic outcome is well within the realm of possibility.”

Meanwhile, House Minority Whip Steven Scalise, R-La., the ranking member of the panel, said that anyone who claims that the administration doesn’t have a plan is spreading a “false political narrative.”

Holding up a stack of several hundred pages, Scalise said that the administration has a plan and it is being implemented “effectively.” He touted efforts to speed up the development of a coronavirus vaccine, which he called “revolutionary.”

In a 42-page joint written statement from the three officials released ahead of the hearing, they outlined the Trump administration’s plans so far to develop a vaccine and treatments and expand testing.

They also conceded there’s no end in sight.

“While it remains unclear how long the pandemic will last, COVID-19 activity will likely continue for some time. It is also unclear what impact the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will have on health care and public health systems during the upcoming influenza season,” they said.

“If there is COVID-19 and flu activity at the same time, this could place a tremendous burden on the health care system related to bed occupancy, laboratory testing needs, personal protective equipment and health care worker safety,” they added. “In the context of likely ongoing COVID-19 activity, getting a flu vaccine is more important now that ever.”

The hearing comes as the death toll in the U.S. surpassed 150,000 people this week and nearly 4.5 million people have tested positive across the country.

The three officials said in their statement that there is still “growing optimism” that a vaccine will be ready by the end of the year or in early 2021, and the CDC is working with the public health system and the private sector to disseminate one “rapidly” to the American people.

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