Fauci cautions that a COVID-19 vaccine won’t eliminate the need for masks and public health measures

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday that even an effective COVID-19 vaccine won’t replace the need for other public health measures, such as wearing a mask, social distancing and washing hands.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the vaccine will not be 100% effective and taken by 100% of the population — which means there still will be room for COVID-19 to spread.

“It is not going to eliminate the need to be prudent and careful with our public health measures,” he said in a Facebook Live conversation with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

Fauci said he’s being “practical” when he says, “I think if we can get 75 to 80% of the population vaccinated, I think that would be a really good accomplishment.”

Fauci’s comments were made as nearly half of U.S. states now report a rise in new COVID-19 cases. In addition, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield said preliminary results on the first round of a CDC study show more than 90% of the population — or more than 295 million Americans — is susceptible to the virus.

Redfield spoke at the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday along with several other leading coronavirus political figures, including Fauci, testing czar Adm. Brett Giroir and FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn.

Together, the group advocated for a fact-based response to the pandemic and pushed back against concerns that the vaccine approval process would be hampered by political interference.

“We do feel the urgency of the moment. We do take very much. … very seriously our responsibility to protect American lives,” Hahn said. “We will not delay, but we will not cut corners in our process.”

Hours later, though, President Donald Trump stomped on that united front by claiming he may override the FDA if the agency released tougher standards for the authorization of a vaccine.

The presidents of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences and Medicine called out political interference in science in a statement released Thursday, saying they are “alarmed” by recent reports of the politicization of science.

“Policymaking must be informed by the best available evidence without it being distorted, concealed, or otherwise deliberately miscommunicated,” said Marcia McNutt, president of National Academy of Sciences, and Dr. Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine.

“We find ongoing reports and incidents of the politicization of science, particularly the overriding of evidence and advice from public health officials and derision of government scientists, to be alarming,” the statement said.

About 6.9 million people across the country have already contracted the illness and more than 200,000 people have died since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. continues to lead the world in both deaths and infections, and now experts warn that the spread of the virus could get much worse with schools now open and flu season on its way.

At least 21 states — mostly across the U.S. heartland and Midwest — are reporting an increase in new COVID-19 cases compared to the previous week. Nationwide, the U.S. is averaging more than 43,000 new cases per day — about double what the country was averaging back in June when lockdown restrictions were easing.

Researchers with the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predict a total of more than 378,000 Americans will have died from COVID-19 by Jan. 1.

Vaccine trials and political pressure

While a timeline for when a vaccine will be widely available still remains unclear, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins says two more Phase 3 vaccine trials will likely start “in the next month or month and a half.”

Sources say the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering new rules for authorizing a COVID-19 vaccine. One source said the FDA is expected to tell vaccine makers they need to wait two months after giving all their study participants their second doses of the vaccine until they can apply for an emergency use authorization.

According to Dr. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, a “large proportion” of the U.S. will not be vaccinated against COVID-19 this year.

“We’re not going to have all of the doses available, for example, by the end of December, they will be rolling in as the months go by,” Fauci said. “By the time you get to maybe the third or fourth month of the 2021, then you’ll have doses for everyone,” he said.

Those prioritized for the vaccine will likely be health care providers, people with existing health conditions and vulnerable populations, he said.

20% of summer COVID-19 cases were in young people

Warnings from experts have remained the same for months: wear a mask, wash your hands, social distance and avoid crowded places.

Over the summer, many of those warnings targeted younger groups, after public health officials and state leaders said young people were helping drive a surge of new cases.

“I don’t want to seem preachy about it,” Fauci told Gov. Murphy during their Facebook Live on Thursday. “But right now the infections in the country are driven more by young people, 19 to 25.”

A new report from the CDC now shows people ages 20 to 29 accounted for more than 20% of all confirmed COVID-19 cases between June and August.

In June, Southern states saw an increase in positive tests among 20 to 39-year-olds a little more than eight days before increases among those 60 or older were reported — suggesting younger adults drove community spread of the virus.

The CDC noted younger people are more likely to work front-line jobs that leave them exposed and they may be less likely to heed social distancing guidelines. And because younger groups are more likely to have milder symptoms or show no symptoms at all, they could have been spreading the virus without ever knowing.

That’s also what some experts have cautioned could happen if students go back home from college campuses and unknowingly bring the virus with them. More than 59,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported in colleges and universities in all 50 states.

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