he coronavirus Fantastic Four — Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Robert Redfield, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Stephen Hahn, MD, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and Brett Giroir, MD, assistant secretary for health — returned to Congress today to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about where the United States currently stands with the Covid-19 pandemic. Here are five key takeaways from the meeting.
1. We are on-track for a vaccine to be available by the beginning of 2021
Fauci confirmed that the first phase 3 trial for a vaccine for the virus, developed by the drug company Moderna, will begin in July, and if all goes well, it could begin to be administered to the public early next year. While there is still no guarantee the vaccine will work against the virus in the general population, Fauci says he is “cautiously optimistic” given the data so far. Several other vaccine options are also in various stages of development and testing, and preliminary results from animal studies are promising.
There has already been a substantial financial investment made toward manufacturing a vaccine in order to scale up production and distribution if and when one is approved. However, Fauci and Hahn reinforced that the only risk being taken is a financial one, not a scientific one. No corners will be cut in terms of safety and efficacy criteria, and vaccines will be assessed by the FDA with the normal rigor before one is approved.
2. Testing capacity has accelerated since March, not slowed down
Despite comments in recent days by President Trump that he’s urged health experts to limit testing, all four men stated that they had received no such directive from the White House. Giroir said the U.S. has performed 27 million tests so far, and they anticipate conducting 40 to 50 million tests by this fall.
3. A new test is coming that can simultaneously diagnose the coronavirus and influenza
The pending flu season coinciding with a second wave of Covid-19 was a big topic of conversation. Redfield said that the CDC has been working on a single test that will screen for both the coronavirus and influenza A and B so that doctors can diagnose and treat patients faster. The experts also urged people to get the flu vaccine to mitigate the risk of at least one deadly viral outbreak this winter. “This single act will save lives,” Redfield said.
4. Decisions about reopening schools will have to be made on a regional level
Fauci emphasized that we live in a big, heterogeneous country, and the outbreak looks very different in different areas. As a result, decisions about reopening will have to be done by city and county, not at a national or even state-wide level. If infection rates are low in a given area, schools there may be able to reopen normally in the fall. In regions where cases are spiking and community spread is present, schools may have to adopt new schedules with morning and afternoon shifts or alternate groups of students on different days. “There is no one size fits all,” Fauci says, and it’s up to local officials to make decisions based on the recommendations from the CDC.
5. We cannot relax our personal prevention vigilance, everyone is responsible for this pandemic
Following questions from representatives from Texas and Florida, two states that are currently seeing their highest case rates yet, Fauci urged people not to congregate in crowds and to wear masks in public. “Don’t throw caution to the wind!” he entreated.
Addressing young adults specifically — who have been implicated in many of the recent outbreaks — he asked them to think not only about themselves and their own risk for infection, but the role they play in spreading the virus to others, particularly those who are more vulnerable. He says that even if young people think they’re at low risk for a serious infection, by propagating the outbreak they’re hurting their neighbors, friends, and relatives.