He told a Senate committee that the idea there would be a treatment or a vaccine by the fall is “a bridge too far.”
WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that scientists are still a long way from effective treatment for coronavirus — and warned there’s “no guarantee” that doctors will ever be able to develop an effective vaccine.
“There’s no guarantee that the vaccine is actually going to be effective,” Fauci said during remote testimony to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Tuesday morning, saying he was hopeful that scientists would be able to find an effective vaccine for COVID-19 but couldn’t guarantee that would happen.
Fauci, the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who is helping to lead the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, used his first congressional testimony since the pandemic hit to temper unrealistic hopes about a return to normalcy.
As the hearing began, he warned HELP Committee Chairman and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) that there’s almost no chance that scientists will develop a treatment or vaccine for the disease by the fall.
“The idea of having treatment available or a vaccine to facilitate the reentry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far,” he warned, arguing that the only real way to have school systems and other large institutions reopen was large-scale testing and contact tracing to be able to catch cases before they turn into outbreaks.
Fauci warned against states rushing to reopen, warning that “the consequences could be really serious” in states that have lifted coronavirus restrictions where cases are still rising. And he looked to emphasize that even in those cases where states and localities closely hew to Centers for Disease Control guidelines will experience a rise in coronavirus cases as they end lockdowns.
“There is no doubt when you pull back on mitigation that some cases will appear,” Fauci said, warning that those states must be prepared to contact trace new cases to avoid new spikes in coronavirus cases.
The hearing itself illustrated the trying times America was facing. Fauci and other Trump administration officials all testified remotely to the committee because they’d been exposed to the coronavirus themselves in recent days. Many senators joined the hearing remotely as well, including Alexander, who also had a staffer test positive in recent days.
Fauci has been forced to walk a tightrope — he’s sought to inform the American public of the dire situation the coronavirus has put the U.S. in while seeking to avoid infuriating President Trump in order to keep his job. Trump has repeatedly pushed hard to reopen the economy, downplaying the health risk of the pandemic.
By official counts, more than 81,000 Americans have died of coronavirus. But Fauci said those numbers were likely higher, given undercounts in areas that have been particularly hard-hit by the disease.
Cover: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases speaks next to Response coordinator for White House Coronavirus Task Force Deborah Birx, during a meeting with US President Donald Trump and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards D-LA in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on April 29, 2020. (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)