As the lockdown ends, the NIAID director talks the continued need for social distancing, vaccines, and emerging therapies.
This week, the US hit 2 million cases and surpassed 115,000 deaths from coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). In addition, 8 US states have seen increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
While this is going on, individual states have been lifting stay-at-home orders, mass gatherings have occurred at national protests, and people’s fears have subsided due to COVID-19 fatigue—all signals that more cases could be on the way.
In this same time, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institution for Allergic and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has called the virus “his worst nightmare” and expressed his concern of seeing people in public not practicing social distancing or using the guidelines.
“We’ve seen pictures and TV clips of people with no masks very closely congregated on a boardwalk, on a beach, in a pool. That has been and continues to be a concern to me,” Fauci said in a recent JAMA Network interview. “We’re not going to know what the effect of that is for at least a couple of more weeks because in order to determine whether a particular behavioral change has an effect on the incidence of a particular infection, like the coronavirus, it likely is 3 weeks or more.”
Fauci commands the attention of the entire nation. His words matter more significantly than really any other expert or government official. He is a straight shooter. You might not like some of his answers, but you feel you can trust him.
In an interview this week with the TV show Good Morning America (GMA), Fauci was asked about the protests specifically and now that reports are surfacing that members of the National Guard have contracted COVID-19. “Masks can help but it’s masks plus physical separation,” Fauci stated. “And when you get congregations like we saw with the demonstrations, and we have said—myself and other officials—it’s taking a risk.”
In discussing potential vaccines, he is pleased with the progress, he told GMA. “In the development of more than one candidate, that in early testing in both animals and in the phase 1 testing of humans looks quite promising, which makes me cautiously optimistic.”
Right now, the Trump administration had narrowed it down to 5 different companies competing in developing vaccines. These companies include Merck, Moderna, Pfizer in partnership with BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca in partnership with Oxford University.
That’s not to say there could be just one winner. Fauci spoke on the potential of having up to 3 vaccine candidates; if everything progresses by mid-to-late fall, he believes investigators could know if the vaccines are safe and efficacious.
“I am sure there will be more than one ‘winner’ in the vaccine world and that will be needed,” Fauci said in an interview at BIO’s 2020 virtual conference this week.
At the end of April, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to antiviral therapy remdesivir, for the treatment of patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
Fauci believes that investigators can build upon remdesivir with other antiviral research and even use existing medications to repurpose them. Interestingly, one of the other investigative therapies they are looking into is convalescent plasma. They are looking into transferring plasma from a previously infected patient into a person with the infection, or to prevent an infection.
“There are many things in various stages of trial,” Fauci said in a recent interview with CNBC. “Hopefully we will be able to get 1 or 2 more of these that have shown to be effective.”
While Fauci understands people’s need for normalcy and getting the economy back up and running, he also warns everyone to not throw caution to the wind. “Be careful and do it prudently,” he said in the GMA interview.
He still stresses that people continue to practice social distancing, hand washing, and avoiding large congregations