Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
NPR Health

Fauci Helps To Spread The Word Of U.S. Response To Coronavirus

NOEL KING, HOST:

Leaders around the world are facing pressure to handle the threat of the coronavirus. Today China's leader Xi Jinping visited the city of Wuhan, where the virus originated. Our reporter in Beijing says it could be a sign the government believes the worst of the emergency in China is over. In Italy, meanwhile, the prime minister has expanded quarantine measures to include the entire country. There are travel restrictions there now. And President Trump said last night, he's pushing for a payroll tax cut to try and mitigate economic damage. In the United States there are more than 700 confirmed cases, and more than two dozen people have died.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is one of the people leading the response to the coronavirus. He is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and he's on the line now. Good morning, Dr. Fauci.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Good morning.

KING: I want to start by asking you about testing here in the United States because we are seeing these anecdotal stories about people who want to be tested, who say they have symptoms, who say they've gone to the doctor and they cannot get the test. The president, so far, has declined to estimate how many Americans have been tested. What is the current availability of test kits across the country? Simply put, do we have enough, and are they where they need to be?

FAUCI: Yes. That had not been the case just a while ago, but that has been corrected. So right now there are about at least 1.1 million tests that are out there. I believe another 640,000 have been shipped yesterday. And then by the end of the week and into next week, there should be about 4 million tests. So you're correct. Earlier on, because of some missteps that have been corrected, they were not allowed out there, but now that has been corrected. And I believe as we look forward, we'll see a pretty good availability of tests.

KING: What steps do you think that authorities at local, state and federal levels should be taking to try and stop this from spreading?

FAUCI: If you look at the totality of the country, the risk is relatively low of getting infected. But if you are infected and you are an individual who falls into the category of having underlying conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, immunosuppression for cancer and other types of diseases, then if you get infected, your vulnerability for getting a complication is high. So what we're doing in society is to try and protect those individuals. You don't travel. You don't go to very crowded places. Particularly, you don't get on a cruise ship because of what we've seen what happened with a cruise ship. That's protecting the vulnerable.

If you look in general in a place like - there are four areas of the country now that have what we call community spread. And that's in California, that's in Florida, that's in New York, and that's in Washington state. And in those places, what's being done is what we call community mitigation. In other words, try and socially distance oneself, perhaps closing schools - maybe not in every place but at least considering it; staying out of crowded places and not traveling in a sense where you could come back and bring the infection back. Those are the kind of things that are being done right now.

KING: I want to ask you specifically about schools and about children because you have got a lot of concerned parents out there. At the same time, you're saying the people most at risk are older and have underlying health problems. Should parents with young, healthy, vibrant children be worried about this?

FAUCI: No, they should not be. But let me explain - there's a little bit of a hitch to it. If you look at the mortality and the morbidity in children, it's significantly less; it's very low. So for reasons that we still don't understand, children, young adults do very well. However, one of the things, when you have infection control, that you have to be careful of is that children may get infected and do well and not feel sick at all and then inadvertently, perhaps, infect someone in the home who is vulnerable, mainly the group that I just described.

KING: Italy has these restrictions now where people's travel is limited except for work or for emergencies. Do you envision the same thing happening in the United States?

FAUCI: Right now you take it on a day-by-day basis. You watch it very carefully. And it may come to a situation where you may have a region, a place, a state or a city in which you have to do more stringent control mechanisms. So I don't want to deny that we might not have to do that. We very well might. We have to be realistic.

KING: Over the course of the past month, President Trump has made numerous statements that health officials argue are misleading about this virus. Let me play some of those for you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There going to have vaccines, I think, relatively soon.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: And they're going to have something that makes you better. And that's going to actually take place, we think, even sooner.

It's going to disappear one day. It's like a miracle. It will disappear.

We're moving at a maximum speed to develop the therapies - not only the vaccines but the therapies. Therapies is sort of another word for cure.

KING: OK. So there's a lot there. But what I want to ask you is this claim that we will have a vaccine relatively soon. Is that accurate? When will we have a vaccine?

FAUCI: I think it relates to conflating a couple of things. For example, we will have a vaccine in trial - namely, we'll be testing it - likely within the next four to five weeks. That is not a vaccine for use. That's just testing if it's safe. Then, when you show it's safe, after an additional three or four months, then you've got to show it works. That's what we call a phase 2 trial. That takes at least another six to eight months. We would not have a vaccine available for at least a year to a year and a half - at best.

KING: OK. Do you have confidence that President Trump has a good grasp of the situation, based on what he's been say (ph)...

FAUCI: He does now. I mean, I believe, in fairness to him, what he was doing when we were talking about vaccine, he was saying that we were going into trial really soon - within a matter of - at that time, it was like two to three months. Now it's down to about four to five weeks. That's different from getting a vaccine available to deploy, and he does understand that now.

KING: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Thank you for your time.

FAUCI: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.