Fauci’s ‘cautiously optimistic’ coronavirus vaccine could prove effective in ‘late fall or early winter’

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WASHINGTON – Dr Anthony Fauci said on Friday he was “cautiously optimistic” that a coronavirus vaccine in the United States could prove effective “in late fall or early winter”.

“We’re hoping that by the time we get into late fall and early winter, we actually have a vaccine that we can say will be safe and effective. Safety and efficacy can never be guaranteed unless you give it a try, but we are cautiously optimistic, ”Fauci said in his opening remarks during a hearing before the Special House subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis.

A Phase 3 trial of 30,000 people for a coronavirus vaccine has just started, said Fauci, who encouraged all Americans interested in participating to apply for the program.

Fauci said in response to a question from Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., That once a vaccine is approved, it will be distributed to Americans “over a period of time in 2021”.

“I don’t think everyone will receive it immediately,” he said, adding that a vaccine will be released in stages.

Fauci also touted two treatments, remdesivir and dexamethasone, which have been used to improve people’s chances of survival. He reiterated that hydroxychloroquine, a drug promoted by President Donald Trump, was not found to be effective when Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., Asked about a recent study indicating that the drug may work for COVID-19 if used with zinc.

“This study is a flawed study, and I think anyone looking at it carefully, [will find] that this is not a randomized, placebo-controlled trial, ”Fauci said. All of the randomized, placebo-controlled trials – which is the gold standard for determining whether something works – none of them had shown efficacy for hydroxychloroquine. ”

Fauci, a leading infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health, testified alongside Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Adm. Bett Giroir, an official with the Department of Health and of Social Services, which is leading the government’s efforts in coronavirus testing.

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Committee lawmakers have pressed witnesses to the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus as the number of cases and death toll in the United States continues to rise. The death toll in the United States topped 150,000 people this week, and nearly 4.5 million people have tested positive across the country.

Giroir said in his opening speech that the United States “cannot test” its exit from the pandemic and that “testing is not a substitute for personal responsibility”, such as wearing a mask or washing your hands. . He said that since mid-March, the United States has increased testing by more than 32,000%, so far performing more than 59 million COVID-19 tests. Giroir also said the nation’s tests had “become strained” due to unprecedented demand.

But, said Redfield, “we are not helpless now,” adding that Americans have powerful tools, like wearing masks, and if they embrace them, the United States can bring the pandemic under control.

Majority House Whip Jim Clyburn, DS.C., chairman of the subcommittee, criticized the federal government in his opening statement, saying it had “failed tests” as states were forced to ration testing, limiting it only to the sickest people. This situation makes it “almost impossible” to control the spread of the virus and reopen the economy safely, he said.

“We don’t need to lose 150,000 more American lives,” he said. “But if we don’t make sweeping changes now, this tragic outcome is well within the realm of possibility. “

Meanwhile, House Minority Whip Steven Scalise, R-La., Leading panel member, said anyone who claims the administration has no plan is spreading a “false political narrative.” .

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

During the hearing, President Donald Trump targeted Clyburn, who brandished a graphic during his questioning of witnesses who showed the United States in a much worse position than European countries, which Fauci attributed to Europe’s decision to shut down more than 95% while the United States has “only functionally closed 50 percent in the sense of the whole country.”

“Someone, please tell Congressman Clyburn, who has no idea, that the graph he presented showing more CASs for the United States than for Europe, is is because we do MUCH MORE testing than any other country in the world. If we didn’t have tests, or bad tests, we would be showing very few CASs… ”Trump said in a tweet.

When asked about his reaction outside of the hearing, Clyburn told reporters: “His level of respect is improving. He called me sir. “

Experts have said Trump’s claims linking the number of lowercase to fewer tests are inaccurate and pointed out that the “positivity rate” measuring the number of positive cases that appear among tests is a much more useful measure.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, tore Fauci apart during his five-minute interrogation, demanding he respond if the protests increase the spread of the virus and repeatedly interrupting him.

“I don’t know what you mean…”, Fauci said, adding, “I don’t think it’s relevant to…” The doctor then said, “I am not in a position to determine what the government can do it forcefully ”in terms of its response to the protests.

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

They also conceded that there was no end in sight.

“While the duration of the pandemic remains uncertain, COVID-19 activity is likely to continue for some time. It is also unclear what impact the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will have on healthcare and public health systems over the coming flu season, ”they said.

“If there is COVID-19 and influenza activity at the same time, it could place a huge burden on the health care system related to bed occupancy, laboratory tests, personal protective equipment and the safety of healthcare workers, ”they added. “In the context of possibly ongoing COVID-19 activity, getting the flu shot is more important than ever. “

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