May 17, 2020 - Health

Azar on reopening country: "Everything does not depend on a vaccine"

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that while the government and the private sector are committing their "full power" to developing a coronavirus vaccine, it will not be the sole determinant of Americans' ability to return to normal life.

Why it matters: President Trump claimed at a press conference last week, "Vaccine or no vaccine, we're back." Azar explained that what Trump meant is that "traditional public health tools," like testing, surveillance and new treatments, will contribute to a "multifactorial approach" that allows the U.S. to safely reopen.

Yes, but: Most health experts agree that, despite what Trump says, the U.S. does not currently have the testing capacity or contact tracing infrastructure necessary to reopen the country without a possible surge in cases.

  • Anthony Fauci warned in testimony last week that the U.S. will "without a doubt" have more coronavirus infections and deaths in the fall and winter if effective testing, contact tracing and social distancing measures are not scaled up to adequate levels
  • Adm. Brett Giroir, the federal government's testing coordinator, says that the U.S. should have the capacity to test more than 25 million people per month by August or September. He claimed that as of now, states have enough testing to begin a gradual "phase one" reopening.

The big picture: In terms of developing a vaccine, Trump's claims that the U.S. will have one by the end of the year is more ambitious than most experts' projections.

  • Rick Bright, the former director of a key vaccine agency, testified last week that even a 12- to 18-month timeline is "aggressive" and that the U.S. does not have a plan to distribute a vaccine for the coronavirus in a "fair and equitable manner" when one becomes available.

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