COMMENTARY: Long road in virus fight

COMMENTARY: Long road in virus fight

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WASHINGTON -- The coronavirus vaccine, now in the earliest stages of its development, "might take some time" before it is ready to go on the market, Congress was told this past week.

Our nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is advising the Trump administration in the battle against the deadly virus, told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that the cure for the COVID-19 disease must first be "focused on the proven public health practices of containment and mitigation."

Earlier, in an interview with The New York Times, Fauci also warned that "moving too quickly to ease restrictions on business and social life will put lives at risk from the coronavirus pandemic and hamper the economic recovery."

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And in a sharper warning to the administration, he told the Senate panel that "states should not forge ahead without first meeting administration guidelines for 14 days of declining cases."

"If we skip over the checkpoints ... we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country," the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told the Times. "This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal."

The 79-year-old Fauci was originally scheduled to testify before the health committee in the House, until the White House blocked him from appearing before the Democratic-controlled panel.

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Fauci received a friendlier reception from the GOP-run panel, where Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer couldn't resist telling MSNBC on Monday that "Dr. Fauci will have the opportunity to testify for the first time without Donald Trump lurking over his shoulder."

As it turned out, Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman, was back home in Tennessee, self-quarantining after a staff member had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Nevertheless, Fauci leveled his warnings as many, if not most, states were ignoring some of the guidelines about reopening their businesses and social restrictions -- after Trump lectured them that the were moving too slowly.

"If some areas, cities, states or what-have-you, jump over those various checkpoints and prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently, my concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks," Fauci told the committee.

"I have been very clear in my message -- to try, to the best extent possible, to go by the guidelines, which have been very well thought-out and very well delineated," he said.

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This was Fauci's first testimony before Congress since the president declared the pandemic virus a national emergency on March 13, but seemed to play down the severity and potential national spread of the coronavirus infection and its lengthy impact.

At one point in his testimony, Fauci contradicted the president's false claims that the virus would die out on its own and "miraculously" disappear.

"That is just not going to happen," Fauci said. "It's a highly transmissible virus. It is likely there will be virus somewhere on this planet that will likely get back to us."

While Johnson and Johnson and other pharmaceutical companies are racing to identify and produce an effective vaccine, medical experts like Fauci and two federal government colleagues "cautioned that neither a vaccine nor surefire treatments would be available when schools are slated to reopen in the fall -- a grim reminder that it is unlikely life will soon return to normal even if Americans try to resume their routines," the Washington Post reported.

"If SARS-CoV-2 establishes itself as a stubborn, endemic virus akin to influenza, medical experts say, there almost certainly will not be enough vaccine for at least several years," the newspaper said.

Donald Lambro has been covering Washington politics for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator.

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