Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said in an interview on Monday that we’re still “knee-deep” in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic as many states hit record-breaking case counts.
In the interview, Dr. Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health asked Fauci questions sent in to the agency during a Facebook livestream on the NIH’s page. One of the questions asked if we’re experiencing a second wave of the pandemic as the U.S. enters its 28th day of reporting record-high average infections, according to The Washington Post.
The fact is, we never got to where we wanted to be in terms of case counts, Fauci said. What we’re experiencing now is a “surge or resurgence of infections,” according to Fauci.
“A series of circumstances associated with various states and cities trying to open up in the sense of getting back to some form of normality has led to the situation where we now have record-breaking cases,” Fauci said.
The good news is that many companies are making progress on vaccine trials, according to Fauci. There are three phases in vaccine trials, and the third phase deals with determining the effectiveness of a vaccine, while the first two ensure the candidate is safe enough to enter human trials, Fauci said.
One of the vaccine candidates is expected to enter phase 3 at the end of this month, according to Fauci. But “there is never a guarantee that a candidate will be safe or effective,” Fauci said.
“We hope that by the end of this year or the beginning of 2021, we will at least have an answer whether the vaccine or vaccines are safe and effective,” Fauci told Collins.
The third phase of trials will need 30,000 people to participate: 15,000 who will receive the vaccine and 15,000 who don’t at multiple sites around the U.S. where an “outbreak is percolating,” according to Fauci.
Collins encouraged people, especially those who have been disproportionately affected by the virus like Latino and African American communities, to enroll in the trials.
When asked about the length of protection that a vaccine could offer, Fauci said the medical community isn’t sure. But it’s safe to assume that it will last through a cycle of six months to a year, according to Fauci.
“We have to assume it will be finite,” Fauci said. “We may need a boost to continue the protection. Right now, we do not know how long it lasts.”
Because COVID-19 doesn’t mutate very quickly, it’s likely that a vaccine will be effective at preventing infections, according to Fauci.
In the meantime, a couple of medications have been shown to help people with “advanced disease,” Fauci said. Remdesivir has helped patients recover faster, and dexamethasone, a corticosteroid, helped reduce the number of deaths in patients on ventilators and oxygen, according to Fauci.
But those treatments do not help people in the early stages of coronavirus, Fauci said. Researchers are testing antiviral medications to find a way to treat patients before the virus worsens, according to Fauci.
As more vaccine candidates enter phase 3 trials in the fall, the question of safety at school will become a greater concern, Collins noted. Local schools and universities will need to evaluate their own circumstances and resources to develop plans for student safety, but Fauci recommends schools “do whatever they can to safely get the kids back to school.”
“It will end, we will get through this,” Fauci said. “It will end because the public health efforts will succeed ultimately and science will get us through this. We will get a vaccine, we will get therapies for early disease and late disease. So the only message that I think we can jointly tell the American public, and the global public, is that we will get through this. Hang in there – it will end. We promise you.”