Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, on Tuesday defended his guidance to the federal government over how to respond to the Covid-19 outbreak, telling Sen. Rand Paul that “I have never made myself out to be the ‘end-all’” and warning against “cavalier” thinking that children could be immune to the disease’s effects.
Paul, a Kentucky Republican, challenged Fauci during a congressional hearing, saying he doesn’t think Fauci is the “end-all,” and “the one person that gets to make the decision” regarding reopening the US economy during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think we ought to have a little bit of humility in our belief that we know what’s best for the economy, and as much as I respect you, Dr. Fauci, I don’t think you’re the end-all,” Paul said.
“I don’t think you’re the one person that gets to make the decision,” Paul continued. “We can listen to your advice but there are people on the other side saying there’s not going to be a surge and then we can safely open the economy. And the facts will bear this out.”
Fauci responded that he “never made (himself) out to be the end-all and only voice in this” and noted that “there are a number” of other officials who weigh on the administration’s strategy.
“I’m a scientist, a physician and a public health official. I give advice, according to the best scientific evidence,” he said. “I don’t give advice about economic things.”
Fauci said that since “we don’t know everything about this virus … we’ve really got to be very careful, particularly when it comes to children.” He noted that some children presenting with Covid-19 have “a very strange inflammatory syndrome” similar to Kawasaki Disease.
“I think we better be careful, if we are not cavalier, in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects,” Fauci added. “You’re right in the numbers that children in general do much, much better than adults and the elderly and particularly those with underlying conditions. But I am very careful, and hopefully humble in knowing that I don’t know everything about this disease. And that’s why I’m very reserved in making broad predictions.”
Paul, who tested positive for coronavirus in March, earlier asked Fauci about the likelihood of those who tested positive receiving some sort of immunity from catching the virus again. Fauci testified, “You can make a reasonable assumption that it would be protective, but natural history studies over a period of months to years will then tell you definitely if that’s the case.”
“I think that’s important,” responded Paul. ” ‘In all likelihood’ is a good way of putting it. The vast majority of these people have immunity.”
Earlier in the day, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, asked whether a vaccine would play a role in helping children return to school in the fall.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified that “would be a bit of a bridge too far” given the current estimate of when a vaccine could be available. Instead, he said testing would be the crucial factor.
“The idea of having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate the reentry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far,” he said.
Alexander had asked Fauci about vaccine at the top of the hearing.
“Even at the top speed we’re going, we don’t see a vaccine playing in the ability of individuals getting back to school this term,” Fauci said. “What they really want is to know if they are safe.”
CNN’s Jacqueline Howard and Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.