NIAID chief pins hopes for long-term containment on vaccine.
States facing COVID-19 surges must hit “pause” on their reopenings and begin to truly follow the CDC guidelines for mitigating its spread, NIAID Director Anthony Fauci, MD, told The Hill during an online webinar hosted by the website on Thursday.
Cases in the U.S. peaked in April but instead of falling to near zero, as happened in many European countries, new daily diagnoses plateaued at about 20,000 per day.
That ended in late May, when new cases began rising again, driven by big increases in California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona. The national rate has been topping 50,000 per day; the widely cited Johns Hopkins University tracker’s count spiked by 113,000 in the 24 hours ending at 8:00 a.m. ET Friday.
“We need to get our arms around that … and we need to do something about it quickly,” Fauci said.
One major challenge is the nature of the virus itself, which is “spectacularly transmissible,” he noted.
But the other problem is that some states ignored public health experts’ advice.
“We went from shutting down to opening up in a way that essentially skipped over all the guideposts,” he said, referring to the benchmarks for each phase of the reopening process. “That’s not the way to go.”
Fauci said he hopes it won’t be necessary for sunbelt states to return to a total shutdown.
“We’ve got to get them to do very fundamental things: closing bars, avoiding congregations of large numbers of people, getting the citizenry in those states to wear masks, maintain six-foot distance, washing hands,” he said. “If we can do that consistently, I will tell you almost certainly you’re going to see a down curve of those infections.”
Fauci also offered his projections for vaccine development.
“We’re really cautiously optimistic that things are moving along quite well with more than one candidate.”
He said the Moderna vaccine, which the NIH helped to develop, “will very likely be going into advanced phase III clinical trials, by the end of this month, July.”
Other “equally promising” vaccine candidates will begin these trials “a little bit later.”
“[W]ith any vaccine development program you never can guarantee success … but the early signs are proving favorable,” he said.
Fauci said he hopes “by the end of this calendar year and the beginning of 2021, that we will have a vaccine that we will be able to begin to deploy to people who need it.”