It’s the holiday season, and thanks to the hard work of many, many scientists, we got the best gift of all: COVID-19 vaccines that work better than any of us could have imagined. A lot still needs to be worked out and we’re in for a hard winter, but we’ve rounded the corner.
To talk about that, we spoke again with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which has been instrumental in the development of a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. For this week’s episode of PODCAST-19, Dr. Fauci talks about post-vaccine life, the new variant of the virus in the U.K., the pandemic pitfalls awaiting the Biden administration, and which celebrity he would like to publicly get the vaccine.
You can watch the video above, or listen to it below. And be sure to subscribe to our PODCAST-19 podcast feed.
Which celebrity would Dr. Anthony Fauci like to publicly get the vaccine?
On the new coronavirus variant in the U.K.:
Anna Rothschild: There’s recently been news of a new variant of the virus in the U.K. From what I understand, it’s still kind of unclear whether this mutation actually changed the virus in any meaningful way, or whether it’s just like a functionally irrelevant mutation that just happened to become more prevalent in, like, a superspreader event. How worried are you about mutations complicating the vaccine rollout?
Dr. Anthony Fauci: Well, I think it’s important to point out that since this is an RNA virus, we’re going to see it mutate, and it will continue to mutate. To think it’s not going to accumulate mutations is naive. It will absolutely do that. The real question is what you asked: Does the mutation induce a functional difference? Does it functionally change? Right now, it’s clear that this new variant is spreading pretty rapidly throughout southeastern England, and another variant is in South Africa. And is it cause and effect? Is the mutation causing the increased spread? Or are you seeing the increased spread of a mutation that’s after the fact? We don’t know that. But we need to be careful. We need to follow it very carefully. We know that it almost certainly does not increase virulence, it isn’t a more deadly virus, number one. And number two, it’s extremely unlikely that it’s going to interfere with the efficacy of a vaccine. Having said that, we have to take mutations serious. You don’t really have to do anything draconian, like blocking any travel from one to the other yet, but you need to take it seriously enough so that if it does have a significant functional effect, you can act accordingly.
On the pandemic response in the United States going forward:
AR: How do you think the Biden administration will differ from the Trump administration in its approach to the pandemic?
AF: I think there will probably be a uniformity of message instead of mixed signals. I think there’ll be more central guidance as opposed to leaving the states completely on their own and letting them do things the way they want to do it. I think there’s going to be a lot of attention to implementing the vaccine rollout correctly, not that it isn’t being done well now. I think the current administration deserves a lot of credit for Operation Warp Speed, for sure.
Dr. Anthony Fauci on how the Biden administration will handle the pandemic
AR: Looking back on the way President Trump handled the pandemic, how do you think he could have saved more lives?
AF: I mean, obviously, there have been some bumps in the road. But, in general, particularly when you look at the science and the vaccine success, that is huge. I mean, that’s something that’s really quite unprecedented. Obviously, you could always look back at your public health response and say, “Could you have done better?” And the answer is: Of course. I think any country looking back at their response will say that they could have done better.
Dr. Anthony Fauci on President Donald Trump’s pandemic approach | FiveThirtyEight
AR: What do you think is the biggest pitfall waiting for President-elect Biden as he takes over our COVID response?
AF: I’m going to try and prevent those pitfalls if I can contribute in some way. I think it’s going to be the divisiveness that’s still in our society; I think that’s probably the thing that’s going to be most challenging. It’s unfortunate that we’ve plowed through a historic pandemic, like nothing we’ve ever seen in 102 years, and it’s been done in the context of a great deal of divisiveness in society. I don’t think that necessarily is going to change right away with the change of administration. So that’s going to be one of the things that’s going to be, I think, challenging to the new administration. We have so many people who don’t believe that this is a problem, that think it’s a hoax, that think it’s fake news, when in fact the numbers are looking you square in the face telling us how serious this really is.
Dr. Anthony Fauci on the biggest challenges facing the Biden administration
On returning to “normal”:
AR: When do you think we can expect to start seeing life get back to normal?
AF: It’s going to depend on our success in vaccinating what I would say is an overwhelming majority of the population, between 70 to 85 percent. If we can do that, by mid to end of the summer, I think as we get into fall, October, November, times like that, I think we will be very close to a degree of normality.
AR: And as you push through these next few months of uncertainty, what do you want Americans to keep in mind?
AF: That this will end. I think they need to know because a lot of people, understandably, have COVID fatigue. They’re exhausted with this. And it’s very difficult to maintain some public health standards and public health measures when you’ve been doing it now for almost a year. The first case in the United States was January 21, 2020. So I think what we need to get people to understand is that help is on the way, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and just hang in there a bit more and we’re going to be OK.