This morning the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee convened, with masked officials on Capitol Hill and remote video calls from witnesses, in a high-profile hearing on plans to restart the U.S. economy post-COVID-19. Four leading government doctors testified, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has emerged as an icon of national guidance during the pandemic.
Here are some key insights from his testimony:
- Fauci began his testimony with a warning on the dangers of reopening the country prematurely. In an email to the New York Times last night, Fauci shared his intent to emphasize that doing so could cause “needless suffering and death.” This morning, Fauci said that the ongoing push from some states to reopen now “disregards the checkpoints we’ve put in our guidelines on when we think it’s safe to proceed,” which he feared could “trigger an outbreak we might not be able to control” and ultimately become a “setback on the road to economic recovery.”
- According to Fauci, at least eight COVID-19 vaccine candidates are in development, and the U.S. is in Phase 1 clinical trials. The current frontrunner is a candidate from Cambridge, Massachusetts, biotechnology firm Moderna, which announced recently that it had completed Phase 1 and would enter Phase 2 “shortly.” Fauci also noted that “there is also the possibility of negative consequences” with vaccine testing, and that in some trials, candidates could worsen the symptoms of the coronavirus.
- According to Fauci, “even at the top speed we’re going . . . we don’t see a vaccine” being achieved by the fall, but it’s “very likely” that we’ll get a vaccine within a year to 18 months.
- According to Fauci, biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences’ much-hyped COVID-19 treatment remdesivir is a “modest success,” which he hopes will be improved “with combinations of drugs and better drugs.” It’s a slightly more tempered endorsement than the one Fauci offered in previous weeks, when he said remdesivir had a “clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery.”
- On the COVID-19 trend, Fauci said that while the curve is flattening in some parts of the country, like New York and New Orleans, there have been spikes in other places, speaking to the geographic variance across the country. But while he thinks “we’re going in the right direction,” that does not mean things are under control yet.
- On the possibility of a second wave of the coronavirus in the fall, Fauci expressed that he expected “without a doubt” to see more cases in the community, but conveyed hopes that we’ll have countermeasures in place “by the end of the summer” to combat the rise. However, if we fail to “respond in an adequate way,” Fauci forecast the “deleterious consequences of more deaths.”