Fauci on Trump-CDC vaccine dispute: ‘They were both right’

Dr. Anthony Fauci interviewed by WTOP's Shawn Anderson

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, has weighed in on a public disagreement between President Donald Trump and the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about when a coronavirus vaccine could be widely available.

CDC chief Dr. Robert Redfield, who testified Wednesday before a Senate committee, said any vaccine available in November or December would be in “very limited supply,” and would first be made available to high-risk patients and health care workers. Redfield told senators the vaccine was unlikely to be broadly available until late spring or summer.

During a news conference later Wednesday, Trump said the doctor was “confused” and that the vaccine would be distributed “very rapidly.”

He added, “We’re ready to distribute immediately to a vast section of our country,” and said “under no circumstance will it be as late as the doctor said.”

Fauci’s take? “I think in many respects, they were both right,” he said, speaking to WTOP Thursday afternoon.

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Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said he didn’t see a “substantial disagreement” between the president and the CDC, and laid out a timeline for how the vaccine development would likely unfold, which largely echoed what Redfield said.

His full comments are below:

“The president was saying is that it is entirely conceivable that we will have an answer (on a vaccine) by October. My projection is that it would likely be November or December; we don’t know, we’re just going to have to wait to see — the trials are on. Once it becomes clear that a vaccine is safe and effective, the doses that would be administered are already being manufactured, so we could hit the ground running. Let’s say it is November, you could start in December, and you could start giving individuals who are in the high-risk (category), as well as health care workers, vaccines already starting in December into January, February. So, many of the people who actually would need the vaccine the most, the more vulnerable, could already be getting them in the beginning of the year. But if you want to ask the question, what about getting everybody vaccinated so that we can say vaccines have now had a significant impact on how we are able to act in the sense of going back to some degree of normality — that very likely would be in the first half to the third quarter of 2021.”

Fauci also discussed some encouraging news from the southern hemisphere, where the traditional flu season is now wrapping up and where public health authorities have reported the least number of flu cases in recent memory, he said.

“They almost … call it an absent flu season,” Fauci said. “They’re not sure why this is the case, but the evidence strongly suggests that all the precautions they were taking to avoid COVID during their winter — namely masks, physical separation, avoiding crowds, washing hands — very well may have averted a flu season.”

Initially, there were fears the U.S. would face a “double whammy” of the flu “superimposed upon a continuation of COVID-19,” Fauci said. It turns out that may not be the case.

But Fauci warned against a feeling of complacency, urging everyone to get a flu shot and to continue wearing masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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