“ ‘They are critical.’ ”
That’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for the past three decades and the country’s leading infectious disease doctor, talking about the importance of a smooth transition of power. Fauci, 79, who has worked with six administrations, likened political transitions to a relay race, and said it’s better not to stop in order to pass on the baton.
“I would like to see the interactions of people who are coming in, doing the things that are being done now by the task force,” he said Tuesday. “Obviously, there is no doubt it is better to have a smooth transition.” He added, “The Biden people are already talking to the companies, which is a good thing. I have not been in touch with the Biden administration at this point.”
Last week, BioNTech SE BNTX, +4.03% and Pfizer PFE, +0.77% announced progress in a vaccine and, Wednesday morning, said a final analysis showed 95% rather than 90% efficacy. On Monday, Moderna MRNA, -4.57% said its vaccine candidate was 94.5% effective. The companies’ findings have not yet been published as a preprint or in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Fauci said news of two new vaccines with an efficacy of 90% and over is a reason to celebrate. “At best, what we will see, will that be some people — generally the highest priority, that’s determined by an advisory committee and, ultimately, the CDC — there will likely be some getting vaccinated towards the end of December,” he told National Public Radio.
He expressed optimism that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna would have vaccines available for 20 million people by the end of the year, but reiterated that there’s unlikely be a rollout for the broader population — beyond frontline workers like medical staff and school teachers, and people with underlying health conditions and older people at risk — until the second quarter.
While the U.S. makes up 4% of the world’s population, it has had 20% of all COVID-19 cases. As of Wednesday, the U.S. had reported 11.5 million coronavirus cases and 250,180 COVID-19-related deaths, just ahead of India (8.9 million cases to date), according to Johns Hopkins University. To put that in context: The U.S. has a population of 328 million people, while India has 1.35 billion.
In a separate interview with STAT Summit Tuesday, Fauci praised President-elect Joe Biden, 77, and said he had a “considerable, in fact, if not profound” understanding of science. He worked with Biden during the Obama administration’s response to the West African Ebola virus. Fauci said they had not seen each other since Biden left the White House four years ago.
Trump’s refusal to concede the presidential election means ties the hands of the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. They cannot legally speak with Biden’s advisers about vaccines, testing or any other coronavirus policy for legal reasons, Politico reported this month.
And, while there is a mutual respect between Biden and Fauci, Politico reported that “sources close to the scientist said he’s irritated by questions about whether he’s cooperating with the incoming administration or afraid President Donald Trump will follow through on his threat to fire Fauci in the coming weeks.” For all the above reasons, Biden and Fauci are avoiding each other.
“ ‘I have not been in touch with the Biden administration.’ ”
The doctor also said he could have been more aggressive in pushing for COVID-19 testing earlier in the pandemic, which could have helped to target the hot spots and help stop community transmission, but said that was a challenge at the time. “It never became a reality because we never really had enough tests to do the tests that you had to do,” Fauci added.
AstraZeneca AZN, -1.76% in association with Oxford University; Johnson & Johnson JNJ, -1.32% ; Merck & Co. MERK, +0.63% ;GlaxoSmithKline GSK, -1.56% ; and Sanofi SAN, -1.80% are among other firms working on vaccines. Sanofi’s France chief Olivier Bogillot told CNews channel that its vaccine does not need to be kept freezing temperatures.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -1.15%, the S&P 500 Index SPX, -1.15% and the Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, -0.82% closed sharply down Wednesday on the rise in U.S. cases of COVID-19. But optimism on vaccines remains: Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine based on initial reports, does not need to be kept at extremely cold temperatures, helping any distribution efforts.
Trump, 74, said last week “time will tell” if he stays in power, despite Biden, his Democratic rival, winning both the popular and Electoral College vote in the presidential election. The president threatened to withhold a coronavirus vaccine, if it becomes available, from New York. Meanwhile, the U.S. racked up over 1 million new coronavirus infections in just six days.
However, more Republican governors are dropping resistance to masks as infections soar and hospitals deal with a flood of cases. “If Iowans don’t buy into this, we’ll lose. Businesses will close once again, more schools will be forced to go online, and our health-care system will fail,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said this week, following in the footsteps of officials in West Virginia and North Dakota.