Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony S. Fauci discussed COVID-19 vaccine progress and the United States’ response to the pandemic in a talk at the Harvard Medical Grand Rounds on Thursday morning.
In his presentation, Fauci provided an overview of current scientific understandings of COVID-19, touching upon its epidemiology, virology, transmission, clinical manifestations, diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.
Fauci, who is a lead member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, also reviewed the nation’s public health policies and current efforts. He said the data is “telling” when trying to understand the lack of success the United States has had when it comes to containing the COVID-19 outbreak.
Compared to the European Union — which substantially lowered its new COVID-19 case counts after the initial peak in late March — the United States has failed to lower its infection rate to the same extent, according to Fauci. He said this has resulted in a “disturbingly high” baseline number of cases over the past six months.
“[It’s] an extraordinarily unacceptable baseline when you’re thinking of so-called opening the economy and entering into the fall,” Fauci said.
Fauci also projected that, among the seven ongoing clinical trials supported by the U.S. government, at least one research group will have determined whether their vaccine is safe and effective by November or December of this year.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we will [have a safe vaccine] based on really encouraging Phase 1 and animal data,” Fauci said. “Again, with vaccines you never say never and you never say always, there’s nothing guaranteed and we’ll just have to see, but these trials are progressing really well.”
Several CEOs of companies involved in the coronavirus vaccine development effort recently signed on to an agreement that ensures that safety and efficacy standards will not be compromised — an “unprecedented” move that Fauci said he strongly supported.
“They did it because there's a lot of talk about trying to rush the vaccine through before the election so that there could be a claim of victory,” Fauci said.
Hosted by three Harvard Medical School teaching hospitals — Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital — the Harvard Medical Grand Rounds are weekly academic conferences where guest speakers and lecturers discuss various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unlike the typical format of in-person grand rounds, which are hosted by a specific department and only open to its own students, residents, and faculty members, this series is live-streamed and available for viewing across the world.
Eileen E. Reynolds '86, chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine at Beth Israel, said in an interview that she and the series's other organizers hoped to spread clinical expertise to a broader audience by opening it up to the public.
“We decided early on that our target audience was actually much bigger than our own individual departments,” Reynolds said. “There are a lot of places that are struggling with COVID that don't have access to their own grand rounds or the expertise that we were able to share on the range of topics.”
While Beth Israel, Brigham and Women’s, and Massachusetts General are typically competing hospitals, Reynolds said the series has given leaders at these institutions the opportunity to collaborate towards a shared goal during the pandemic.
“This gets at the very basic missions of doctors, which is that we want to work together to advance science and patient care,” Reynolds said.
—Staff writer Virginia L. Ma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.