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Fauci: Developing Vaccine by Fall Term Is ‘Bridge Too Far’

May 13, 2020
 
 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, told a Senate committee that the prospects of developing a vaccine by the fall to truly make college students comfortable enough to go back to campuses “is a bridge too far.” But he said that doesn’t mean students cannot return, depending on the amount of infections and available testing in an area.

Fauci’s comments came after he was asked by Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate's health and education committee, what he could say to give the chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, comfort in reopening its campus for in-person instruction in the fall.

What’s needed to truly make students feel safe enough to go back to classes likely won’t be available in time, Fauci said at the hearing.

“The idea of having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate re-entry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far,” he said, “even at the top speed we’re going.”

More broadly, Fauci warned that if cities or states try to return to normal life too quickly, it could “trigger an outbreak you cannot control.”

But asked later by Alexander to clarify, Fauci said he that didn't mean students couldn't go back to school. He agreed with Dr. Brett Giroir, the assistant U.S. secretary for health, who said colleges' strategies for reopening will differ depending if large numbers of infections are in the surrounding area.

Giroir also said during the hearing that the administration expects to be able to conduct 25 million to 30 million tests a month by the fall, enabling colleges to test some students at different times for infections on campus. Giroir also said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is looking at experimental approaches to inform college administrators, like testing wastewater from residence halls to see if the virus is present.

That expected increase in testing, Alexander said, “should give every principal, every chancellor of every college” reassurance that a strategy can be developed to reopen for in-person classes in August.

Alexander, who participated in the hearing remotely after placing himself under self-quarantine after one of his staff members tested positive for the virus, repeated his comments from Meet the Press on Sunday that the nation’s increase in testing is “impressive.”

But, he said, currently “it is not nearly enough to provide confidence to 31,000 students and faculty that it is safe to return to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, campus in August.”

As House Democrats work toward a new multitrillion-dollar coronavirus relief package, Alexander said the focus should be on increasing testing.

“There is not enough money available to help all those hurt by a closed economy. All roads back to work and back to school lead through testing, tracking, isolation, treatment and vaccines,” he said.

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