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Why Fauci thinks a vaccine by November is ‘unlikely’

Millions of children returned to school Tuesday, many of them through virtual learning. At the same time, some colleges and universities are struggling with the consequences of reopening their campuses. And concerns over public trust in a potential coronavirus vaccine prompted a safety pledge from chief executives of nine drug companies. Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The fall season began and millions of children went back to school virtually today. At the same time, some colleges and universities are juggling the consequences of reopening their campuses.

    Meanwhile, chief executives of nine drug companies pledged not to seek approval of a vaccine before safety and efficacy had been clearly established in clinical trials. All this came in response to concerns over the public trust.

    This afternoon, I spoke with Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health. It was for a special forum for the group Research America. Here's some of our conversation.

    And we began with concerns around schooling.

    Dr. Fauci, as you know, this is on the mind of so many families, students returning to school. People are worried about their children. And I want to start by asking you about colleges, because there's been a lot of focus on those.

    You advised last week that schools not send students back home if they test positive. What are you concerned about with colleges? Why did you make that recommendation?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Well, Judy, I made that recommendation because if — when you bring in college and university students in, if they get infected, you really should try as best as you can have to have a capability, a facility, to sequester them from the rest of the student body, so they don't infect other students.

    But you shouldn't send them home, because, if you send them home, I mean, just the nature of universities and colleges, you're getting kids from all over the country.

    If you send them back to their community, you will, in essence, be reseeding with individuals who are capable of transmitting infection many communities throughout the country.

    So, it's much, much better to have the capability to put them in a place where they could comfortably recover. Hopefully, that could be a floor of a dorm, or, as some colleges are doing, an entire dorm that's dedicated to people who you want to segregate from the rest of the student body.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The idea that we're going to have a vaccine by November 3, how realistic?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Well, I think that's unlikely.

    I mean, the only way you can see that scenario come true is if that there are so many infections in the clinical trial sites, that you get an efficacy answer sooner than you would have projected.

    Like I said, it's not impossible, Judy, but it's unlikely that we'll have a definitive answer at that time, more likely by the end of the year.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We know, with regard to the public's confidence in the vaccine, Dr. Fauci, polls are showing that perhaps a third of Americans are not confident enough, and they're saying they're not going to take the vaccine at first.

    That's a pretty high percentage. At what point does this become a problem?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Well, I think it already is a looming problem.

    And one of the ways that we can mitigate against that, Judy, is by being very transparent in our outreach to the community about what the data are, what they show, and what criteria that we're using in order to make a decision about the vaccine being safe and effective and making it available.

    We've got to regain the trust of the community about, when we say something is safe and effective, they can be confident that it is safe and effective.

    And that's the reason why we have to be very transparent with the data, as well as what it is that goes into the decision-making process about approving a vaccine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mentioned the FDA. But it was the FDA that rolled out original information about the so-called convalescent plasma, where they came back and said later that it had been overstated.

    So, when you have something like that happen, isn't it natural that people may be skeptical?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Oh, you're right, Judy. I don't want to deny that. That's reality. They likely will be skeptical.

    What we're trying to do now is correct that, and get them to understand there are going to be multiple layers of checkpoints before this type of decision is made.

    And there are a lot of people looking at this, Judy, a lot of people in the scientific community, you know, myself included, who are looking at this to try and make sure it gets done in a way that's scientifically sound.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I should say, not just the FDA, but there have been some back-and-forth, if you will, at the CDC, where there's been guidance, and then it's been pulled back, and questions raised.

    I have to ask the question again. How can the American people be sure they're getting straight science from these government agencies?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Again, it's not going to be easy, given what's gone on before.

    We just have to keep being quite transparent. I have been, right from the beginning, always quite clear in how I feel about the importance of the integrity of the science and the integrity of the decision-making process.

    And I and many of my scientific colleagues will continue to be very vigilant about that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dr. Fauci, thank you so much.

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Thank you, Judy. Good to be with you, as always.

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