Fauci pre­dicts virus vac­cine for U.S. in ’21

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Ri­cardo Alonso­zal­divar and Matthew Per­rone

WASH­ING­TON — Dr. An­thony Fauci said that he re­mains con­fi­dent that a coron­avirus vac­cine will be ready by early next year, telling law­mak­ers that a quar­ter­mil­lion Amer­i­cans 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 Fri­day ac­knowl­edged that the U.S. re­mains un­able to de­liver all COVID­19 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 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 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. The three of­fi­cials ap­peared before a spe­cial House panel in­ves­ti­gat­ing the gov­ern­ment’s pan­demic re­sponse, it­self sharply di­vided along party lines.

Nearly 4.5 mil­lion Amer­i­cans have been in­fected with COVID­19, and more than 150,000 have died. 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 “it is not a pos­si­ble bench­mark we can achieve to­day given the de­mand and sup­ply.”

But 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.

Giroir said a two­ to three­day turn­around “is ab­so­lutely a bench­mark we can achieve mov­ing for­ward.”

While hos­pi­tals can gen­er­ally de­liver in­house 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 five days, but the re­main­der are tak­ing longer, Giroir told law­mak­ers.

The bit­ter pol­i­tics sur­round­ing the U.S. re­sponse to the coron­avirus was ev­i­dent at the hear­ing by the House Select Sub­com­mit­tee on the Coron­avirus Cri­sis.

As the health of­fi­cials were tes­ti­fy­ing, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in a tweet re­peated a false claim that high num­bers of U.S. cases are due to ex­ten­sive test­ing. Com­mit­tee Chair­man James Cly­burn, D­S.C., tried to en­list Fauci to re­but the pres­i­dent.

And Rep. Jim Jor­dan, ROhio, tried to press Fauci into say­ing that demon­stra­tions against po­lice vi­o­lence to­ward Black Amer­i­cans spread the virus and should be curbed. Fauci didn’t bite.

“You make all kinds of rec­om­men­da­tions,” Jor­dan said, tak­ing aim at Fauci. “You made com­ments on dat­ing, base­ball, and ev­ery­thing you can imag­ine. … I’m just ask­ing should we try to limit the protest­ing?”

Fauci said it’s not his role to opine on curb­ing po­lit­i­cal protests. But Jor­dan shot back, not­ing that church ser­vices have been shut down due to virus pre­cau­tions, and im­ply­ing that Fauci has a dou­ble stan­dard on two First Amend­ment rights, re­li­gious lib­erty and free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

“I’m not fa­vor­ing any­body over any­body,” Fauci an­swered. “And I don’t judge one crowd ver­sus another crowd. When you’re in a crowd, par­tic­u­larly if you’re not wear­ing a mask, that in­duces the spread.”

Some Trump sup­port­ers have urged the pres­i­dent to sack Fauci, and the pres­i­dent’s tweet raised the stakes.

Dur­ing the hear­ing Cly­burn had dis­played a chart show­ing ris­ing cases in the U.S. jux­ta­posed with lower lev­els across Europe. That caught the pres­i­dent’s eye.

Trump tweeted: “Some­body please tell Con­gress­man Cly­burn, who doesn’t have a clue, that the chart he put up in­di­cat­ing more CASES for the U.S. than Europe, is be­cause we do MUCH MORE test­ing than any other country in the World.”

Cly­burn turned to Fauci for a real­time fact check.

“Now Dr. Fauci,” the chair­man in­toned, “do you agree with the pres­i­dent’s state­ment, or do you stand by your pre­vi­ous an­swer that the dif­fer­ence is caused by mul­ti­ple fac­tors in­clud­ing the fact that some states did not do a good job of re­open­ing?”

Fauci an­swered di­rectly. “I stand by my pre­vi­ous state­ment that the in­crease in cases was due to a num­ber of fac­tors,” he said. One was “that in the at­tempt to re­open, that in some sit­u­a­tions, states did not abide strictly by the guide­lines that the task force and the White House had put out.”

Erin Scott / AFP via Getty Im­ages

Dr. An­thony Fauci, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Al­lergy and In­fec­tious Dis­eases, told a sub­com­mit­tee he was op­ti­mistic Amer­i­cans would get a coron­avirus vac­cine in 2021.

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