The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) spent a half-hour on Facebook Live with the New Jersey governor Thursday. Here’s the recap.
By Matt Skoufalos | September 24, 2020
On Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) sat down with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy for a brief conversation about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) over Facebook Live.
In the course of a 30-minute conversation, the two covered a variety of topics, from pandemic responses to vaccine timetables to effective preventive measures to mitigate the impact of the virus.
You can watch the full dialogue here, but we’ve summarized the key takeaways below.
1. After surviving the initial outbreak this spring, New Jersey is well-positioned to continue gradually reopening its economy.
Despite having sustained the brunt of the initial impact of the pandemic in the United States, New Jersey has since managed to dampen its infection rate to below three percent statewide, creating “a baseline that is positioning you well to do a number of things,” Fauci said.
As the seasons turn and activity heads indoors, parts of the country that have managed to control community spread of the virus can “continue to gradually, carefully, and prudently open your economy in a careful way,” Fauci said.
“The baseline for the country is still about 35,000 to 45,000 new cases a day,” the doctor said.
“There are places in the country where a second wave is an oxymoron because they are still in the middle of the first wave,” he said. “Your baseline is so low [in New Jersey] that you’re going to be at an advantage when inevitable cases occur.
“Notwithstanding that you got hit pretty badly, if you continue to carefully and prudently open the economy, you can get through the fall and the winter,” he said.
Behaviors like social distancing, washing hands, and wearing face coverings will be critical to help stave off additional spread of the virus, Fauci said.
2. A COVID-19 vaccine could be available by the end of the year, if not sooner; however, it likely won’t be widely administered until late in 2021.
Fauci said that about six pharmaceutical companies are in the latter stages of clinical trials for a vaccine to combat COVID-19.
Anywhere from 30,000 to 60,000 people will help test the initial formulations of vaccines within those trials.
As many as 700 million COVID-19 vaccine doses could be available by April 2021, but “logistics and practicality” could delay their delivery until later in the year, he said.
However, the delivery date of a vaccine matters less than increasing public confidence in the process of its development. Health officials have a burden to overcome in convincing a certain segment of people that a vaccine will be both safe and effective, Fauci said.
“There already is a reluctance in this country to get vaccinated,” the doctor said. “We’ve got to build the trust and outreach to the community so that what we’re doing is completely transparent.”
He cited the independent statistical auditing that accompanies any vaccine development as a reason for confidence in the process.
“There’s an independent group of statisticians that can determine if the trial is going along well, or they can say, ‘There are more infections in the vaccine group than in the placebo group; stop the trial, we got a problem,’ or there’s enough difference between the placebo and the vaccine group that you cross the threshold of efficacy,” Fauci said.
“The big elephant in the room out there is, ‘Is anybody going to do an end run to try to do that more quickly than is safe?’” he asked.
3. Any vaccine is a supplement to public health measures, not a replacement for them.
Even when a vaccine is approved, it won’t be bulletproof, Fauci said, nor will it replace the need to maintain the same preventive measures that have become the hallmark of pandemic safety: hand-washing, wearing a face covering, and social distancing.
“If we are lucky, we’ll get a vaccine that is 70-to-75-percent effective,” he said. “We look at it as an important tool to supplement the public health measures that we do.
“It will allow us to more quickly and with less stringency get back to some degree of normal, but it is not going to eliminate the need to be prudent and careful with our public health measures,” Fauci said.
Those in the first group to receive the vaccine will be healthcare providers, the elderly and medically vulnerable, and those with underlying conditions.
4. The same measures that safeguard against the COVID-19 pandemic can also help mitigate the impact of flu season.
Fauci urged everyone to “try to get flu shot early” in the season to “help prevent the confluence of two respiratory diseases” this fall. He cited reports from countries in the southern hemisphere of the globe that saw “practically a nonexistent flu season” because of flu shots, social distancing, hand washing, and face coverings.
If countries in the northern hemisphere can follow their lead, “we can have a double positive whammy,” Fauci said.
5. Beating the pandemic requires global buy-in.
Fauci warned of avoiding behaviors that may be “inadvertently propagating the outbreak,” including mass gatherings, unmasked interactions, and so forth.
COVID-19 is exceptionally virulent, which means that event those people who aren’t sickened by it can still spread it to others unwittingly.
“You’re going to infect someone else, who infects someone else, who then will infect someone’s grandparent, someone’s wife who’s on chemotherapy for cancer, an immune-deficient child; and then you’re going to see the hospitalization rate and the death rate go up,” the doctor said.
Fauci also urged everyone to maintain precautions to avoid poorly ventilated areas, as “aerosol transmission [of the virus] almost certainly occurs.
“Act like it’s occurring, and do the same thing you’ve been doing otherwise.”
“We are all in this together, and we’re going to end it together,” he said. “When we end it, then you can get back to your normal life, but we’ve got to end it first.”
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