WASHINGTON — With the coronavirus death toll soaring in the United States, three of the Trump administration’s top health officials — Infectious-disease expert Anthony Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and Brett Giroir of the Department of Health and Human Services — were pressed Friday morning by a Democrat-led House panel about the ongoing crisis.
In opening remarks, Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious-disease specialist, again said he was “cautiously optimistic” that a safe and effective vaccine is possible this year.
“We hope that as the time we get into the late fall and early winter we will have, in fact, a vaccine that we can say would be safe and effective,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said. “One can never guarantee the safety or effectiveness unless you do the trial, but we are cautiously optimistic.”
The Phase 3 trial just launched for a vaccine candidate being developed by biotech company Moderna in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health. Fauci said that as of Thursday night, 250,000 people have volunteered to take part in the clinical trials.
Under questioning, Fauci said no corners were being cut in developing the vaccine at this speed and that a goal of early next year is “realistic.”
To some people, he said, “it seems like it is so fast that there might be compromising of safety and efficacy — that is absolutely not the case.”
Scientists were able to move quickly compared to past vaccine development, he said, because “of very different technology” and because of the way the human body responds to this virus.
Fauci also said that the United States “functionally shut down” at only about 50%, explaining why coronavirus cases have gone down in much of Europe while they have soared in this country.
Fauci responded to a question from Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., who presented charts showing lines moving in different directions as he sought an explanation for the discrepancy during the hearing of the House select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis.
“The answer to that question is really somewhat complex,” Fauci said.
He said one significant factor was that when Europe shut down, it did so “to the tune of about 95% plus.”
“When you actually look at what we did, even though we shut down, even though it created a great deal of difficulty, we really functionally shut down only about 50 percent in the sense of the totality of the country,” Fauci said.
As the United States reopened, Fauci noted, transmission started moving rapidly in Southern states.
Representatives also pressed on the nation’s testing.
Giroir, a top federal health official overseeing coronavirus testing, touted the Trump administration’s efforts but testified that “we cannot test our way out of this or any other pandemic.”
Giroir also acknowledged that getting results back to all patients within two to three days is not possible at this time. Giroir said 75% of test results are coming back within five days.
Later, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, tried to get Fauci to weigh in on whether protests were more acceptable than going to school or church. Fauci would not engage, maintaining that his public-health position is that being in a crowd increases the possibility of transmission.
President Donald Trump appeared to be watching the hearing, tweeting his debunked claim that America has more positive cases of coronavirus than other countries because it tests more.
In other developments:
— The United States announced a $2.1 billion vaccine deal with two European drugmakers — the government’s largest contract yet as part of Operation Warp Speed.
— New coronavirus cases among the St. Louis Cardinals created an additional crisis for Major League Baseball after it postponed 14 games and upended the schedules of five East Coast teams after a coronavirus outbreak among the Miami Marlins and positive tests on the Philadelphia Phillies staff. Friday’s Cardinals-Milwaukee Brewers game was postponed.
— British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would push back plans to ease restrictions by at least two weeks. “Our assessment is that we should now squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep the virus under control,” he told reporters, a month after Britain reopened.
— Roughly 30 million Americans will see their incomes plunge dramatically, worsening a coronavirus-induced recession that has already led to the steepest drop in U.S. economic output on record. Yet American consumers spent $737.7 billion in June, a 5.6 percent jump that builds on May’s spending rebound, according to federal data released.
— Despite experiencing milder symptoms, children may carry as much of the coronavirus in their respiratory systems as adults, according to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics.