Under direction from the White House, federal health authorities are carrying out a plan dubbed Operation Warp Speed to manufacture 300 million doses of a vaccine on a compressed timeline.

Dr Anthony Fauci testifies during the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing in Washington, DC, US, July 31, 2020.
Dr Anthony Fauci testifies during the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing in Washington, DC, US, July 31, 2020. (Reuters)

Top US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci has resisted efforts by a staunch ally of President Donald Trump to turn his testimony about controlling the coronavirus pandemic into criticism of protests against racial injustice.

Once a coronavirus vaccine is approved as safe and effective, Americans should have widespread access within a reasonable time, Fauci has assured lawmakers.

Appearing before a House panel — The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis — investigating the nation's response to the pandemic on Friday, Fauci expressed “cautious” optimism that a vaccine would be available, particularly by next year.

“I believe, ultimately, over a period of time in 2021, that Americans will be able to get it,” the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases said, referring to the vaccine.

There will be a priority list for who gets early vaccinations. “I don't think we will have everybody getting it immediately,” Fauci explained.

But “ultimately, within a reasonable time, the plans allow for any American who needs the vaccine to get it,” he added.

READ MORE: US expert Fauci sees 'encouraging' early vaccine trial results 

Under direction from the White House, federal health authorities are carrying out a plan dubbed Operation Warp Speed to manufacture 300 million doses of a vaccine on a compressed timeline.

Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease official, said a quarter-million people have expressed interest in taking part in studies of experimental vaccines for the coronavirus.

He said that 250,000 people have registered on a government website to take part in vaccine trials, which are pivotal for establishing safety and effectiveness. Not all patients who volunteer to take part in clinical trials are eligible to participate.

Republican effort to turn testimony against protesters

A veteran of six Republican and Democratic administrations, Fauci has become the most familiar face of the administration's coronavirus task force but a target of many conservatives who want to see the economies fully reopened. 

Fauci clashed with Representative Jim Jordan at a hearing of the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Coronavirus, after the Ohio Republican demanded Fauci's opinion about whether protests should be curbed or eliminated to control the pandemic.

"Should we limit the protesting?" Jordan asked. When Fauci said he was not in a position to make such a recommendation, the lawmaker retorted: "You make all kinds of recommendations. You make comments on dating, on baseball and everything you could imagine."

"I'm not favouring anybody over anybody," Fauci replied. "I'm telling you what is the danger, and you can make your own conclusion about that. You should stay away from crowds, no matter where the crowds are."

Fauci's testimony comes at the end of a month in which US coronavirus deaths rose by almost 25,000 and cases doubled in at least 18 states, according to a Reuters tally, dealing a crushing blow to hopes of quickly reopening the economy.

Trump, who appeared to be watching the proceedings, weighed against his Democratic critics on Twitter: "Our massive testing capability, rather than being praised, is used by the Lamestream Media and their partner, the Do Nothing Radical Left Democrats, as a point of scorn. This testing, and what we have so quickly done, is used as a Fake News weapon. Sad!"

Overwhelming testing demand 

Fauci was joined by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head Dr Robert Redfield and Health and Human Services testing czar Adm Brett Giroir.

Giroir acknowledged that currently it's not possible for the US to return all coronavirus test results to patients in two to three days. He blamed overwhelming demand across the nation.

Many health experts say that Covid-19 results are almost worthless when delivered after two or three days because by then the window for contact tracing has closed.

The latest government data shows about 75 percent of testing results are coming back within five days, but the remainder are taking longer, Giroir told lawmakers.

Rapid, widespread testing is critical to containing the coronavirus outbreak, but the US effort has been plagued by supply shortages and backlogs since the earliest days of the outbreak.

At a time when early progress seems to have been lost and uncertainty clouds the nation’s path forward, Fauci, Giroir and Redfield are calling on Americans to go back to public health basics such as social distancing and wearing masks.

Wearing masks is 'fundamental'

Fauci's dogged persistence has drawn the ire of some of President Trump's supporters and prompted a new round of calls for his firing. But the veteran of battles against AIDS and Ebola has stuck to his message, while carefully avoiding open confrontations with the Trump White House.

In an interview with The Associated Press earlier this week, Fauci said he was “disturbed” by the flat-out opposition in parts of the country to wearing masks as a public health protective measure.

“There are certain fundamentals,” he said, “the staples of what you need to do ... one is universal wearing of masks.”

Public health experts say masks help prevent an infected person who has yet to develop symptoms from passing the virus to others. For mask wearers, there's also some evidence that they can offer a degree of protection from an infected person nearby.

Fauci said in his AP interview that he's concerned because the US has not followed the track of Asian and European nations also hit hard by the coronavirus.

Other countries that shut down their economies knocked back uncontrolled spread and settled into a pattern of relatively few new cases, although they continued to experience local outbreaks.

The US also knocked back the initial spread, but it never got the background level of new cases quite as low. And the resurgence of Covid-19 in the Sunbelt in recent weeks has driven the number of new daily cases back up into the 60,000-70,000 range. It coincided with economic reopening and a return to social gatherings, particularly among younger adults. Growing numbers of emergency room visits, hospitalisations and deaths have followed as grim consequences.

Nearly 4.5 million Americans have been been infected since the start of the pandemic, and more than 150,000 have died, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Fauci said there's evidence the surge across the South may be peaking, but upticks in the Midwest are now a concern.

“They've really got to jump all over that because if they don’t then you might see the surge we saw in some of the Southern states,” he told the AP.

Though Fauci gets push-back from White House officials, other medical experts in the administration are on the same page when it comes to the public health message.

Giroir, the testing czar, told reporters Thursday, “I think it's very important to make sure that we all spread the public health message that we can control all the outbreaks occurring right now.”

He said controlling the outbreaks will require people to wear masks, avoid crowded indoor spaces and wash their hands frequently.

READ MORE: Fauci tells US Congress coronavirus outbreak not yet under control

Source: TRTWorld and agencies