While touting preliminary success in developing treatments for COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday there was “no guarantee” that a vaccine to prevent the coronavirus would be ready by early 2021.
“There is no guarantee — and anyone who has been involved in vaccinations will tell you — we’ll have a safe and effective vaccine, but we are cautiously optimistic, looking at animal data and the preliminary data, that we will at least know the extent of the efficacy sometime in the winter and early part of next year,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Fauci also said scientists were “aspirationally hopeful” there could be doses available to the public by next year.
Earlier, he noted that the drug remdesivir had proven effective in treating infected patients, cutting recovery time.
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the lawmakers that in light of spikes in some states that have reopened, it was more urgent than ever that people take measures to protect themselves and others — including wearing face coverings.
“We are not defenseless against this disease. We have powerful tools at our disposable. Social distancing, wear a face cover in public and be disciplined about the frequent hand washing,” Redfield said.
“It is critical that we all take the personal responsibility to slow the transmission of COVID-19 and embrace the universal use of face coverings. I ask those that are listening to spread the word.”
He then detailed upticks in infection in states that have reopened.
“We’re seeing significant increases in the Southeast and Southwest regions of this nation,” he said.
“The evidence tells us these cases are driven by many factors that include increased testing, community transmission and outbreaks in the settings such as nursing homes and occupational settings. Hospitalizations now are going up in 12 states,” he said.
Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health, who is coordinating testing efforts, also emphasized the importance of social distancing and face coverings to stop the spread of the pandemic, which has killed more than 125,000 Americans to date, the highest death toll in the world.
“All of us are concerned about data indicating a rise in infections and now an uptick in hospitalizations and deaths even as other states and majority of counties are maintaining a low infection burden,” he said.
“We must take personal responsibility and be disciplined about our own behavior. Maintain physical distancing. Wear a face covering whenever you can’t physically distance. Wash your hands. Stay at home if you feel sick,” Giroir said.
Fauci later amplified that message and warned that the number of daily cases could snap back if preventive measures aren’t taken seriously to as many as 100,000 per day — compared to about 41,000 cases on Sunday.
“I think masks are extremely important. There’s no doubt the mask protects you and protects others. It’s people protecting each other. Anything that furthers the use of masks, whether it’s giving out free masks or any other mechanism, I am thoroughly in favor of,” Fauci said.
“We could be back to 100,000 cases a day if trends aren’t reversed. If things don’t turn around, It could get very bad,” he added.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the panel, said in prepared remarks that reopening schools was important.
And he also encouraged Americans — and President Trump — to wear masks.