Fauci confident in vaccine efforts, predicts no more US lockdowns

Washington (AFP) - The United States does not need broader barriers to control its COVID-19 outbreak, although the national daily infection rate has remained unchanged, leading government expert Anthony Fauci said Thursday.
Speaking to AFP, the doctor-scientist added that he was optimistic that the world would soon have a vaccine that would end the pandemic and described the results of earlier studies as "encouraging".
"I don't think we're going to talk about getting banned again," he said when asked if places like California and Texas, where the number of cases is growing rapidly, should reissue home stay orders .
"I think we'll talk about better controlling areas of the country where there seems to be a flood of cases."
The United States is the world leader in the number of confirmed infections and deaths. The death toll is close to 120,000.
But while the former epicentres of New York and New Jersey controlled their outbreaks, the virus is now increasing in 20 states - creating a plateau in national case graphics.
Fauci emphasized a localized approach as the country returned to normal - also when it came to the crucial question of when schools should be reopened.
"Districts where there are certainly no cases at all, there is no problem with the opening of the schools," he said.
"There are other areas where there is a modest amount of infection (where) you can delay opening school."
For these regions in between, "you want to make some changes to the process, namely: alternating days, mornings or afternoons, people with masks sitting separately."
He cautiously proposed when it came to reopening national borders.
"Obviously there is an interest in returning to a form of normalcy in our interactions with other countries," he said. The issue was reviewed almost daily, but refused to provide a schedule.
The 79-year-old has headed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 and has monitored the country's response to every epidemic from HIV.
However, a growing problem has been the loss of public confidence in science, especially during the current crisis.
"Even if the recommendations are to wear a mask, a recommendation that I was involved in, there are some groups that actually follow the recommendations very strictly," said Fauci.
"And then ... you see pictures of people in bars and communities without that. So again, it's a mixed bag."
- 'Proof of Concept of Nature' -
Many scientists have called the development of a vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus "Moonshot" because there has never been a successful vaccine against a human corona virus.
In addition, despite decades of trials, scientists have not developed an HIV vaccine.
Fauci emphasized that the two are not comparable.
"The reason I have more confidence in the corona virus is because we know that the majority of people recover from COVID-19 because their immune system eliminates the virus," he said.
"So nature has already given you a proof of concept that this is possible."
Since people who are recovering produce virus-fighting antibodies, scientists are confident that these antibodies can also be triggered by an artificial antigen.
Fauci added that he was "cautiously optimistic" about the National Institute of Health's early animal studies on the Moderna vaccine and early results from the human study that produced "encouraging" neutralizing antibodies.
But he added that just because the Moderna vaccine and another one made by Oxford University seemed "ahead of time" didn't mean that their final results would be the best.
Regarding treatment, Fauci said he was "very impressed" with the results of a British study with the steroid dexamethasone, which was found to reduce deaths in COVID-19 patients with ventilators by a third.
However, since it suppresses the abnormal immune response that damages the body's organs rather than attacking the virus, Fauci warned that it should not be prescribed too soon after infection.
"It had no effect, if not a suggestion, to make things worse early," he said.
"This is perfectly compatible with the knowledge that at the start of an infection the immune system is required to suppress the virus."

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