Dr. Anthony Fauci: COVID-19 Will End and We Will Get Control Over It
Since 1984, he’s been at the table and helping lead the fight to keep Americans healthy and virus-free.
Now in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Anthony FauciTrusted Source has become the voice and symbol of both promise and resolve in the battle against the new coronavirus.
Dr. Fauci sat down with Healthline for an exclusive interview on Friday to talk about the COVID-19 pandemic, working with six presidential administrations, and what he does to deal with pandemic stress.
Here are some excerpts from our conversation with the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), who served as a member of President Trump’s task force on COVID-19.
You’ve been in this arena since 1984 and through six administrations. Can you recall a time even remotely similar to this challenge?
Dr. Anthony Fauci: It’s interesting we are speaking today. On June 4, 1981, the first report of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention morbidity and mortality weekly report showed that five gay men, all from Los Angeles, had presented with a strange new syndrome.
In 1984, when I became director of [the NIAID], it was the very beginning of an outbreak that we didn’t fully understand the full implications of. We thought incorrectly that it was restricted to the gay community and to injecting drug users.
We didn’t realize that throughout the world and in Africa it was bubbling up as a mostly heterosexual disease, which right now, today, fast-forward, more than 80 million people have been infected, more than 37 million people have died, and there are 37 million people living with HIV. That was my first interaction with the presidency, with the administration of Ronald Reagan.
So it wasn’t the explosive, immediate nature of COVID-19, which essentially impacts, directly or indirectly, everybody in the world because everyone feels they are at risk. That’s different than with HIV, when it was clear it was defined by a risk behavior and not something that was completely out of your control, like respiratory illness.
And then we had the anthrax attacks and the pandemic flu, and we had Ebola and Zika, so for better or worse I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in six different administrations through outbreaks, some of which were much more severe than others; some of which were threatening, but they didn’t really impact us like Ebola. You know, there were headlines, but there was never really any risk in the United States that there would be an outbreak.
But to answer your question: This, that we are living through now, is truly unprecedented.
People have asked me this because of the length of time I’ve been doing this, that throughout all the years, what’s your worst nightmare?
And I always say my worst nightmare — and I said this years ago, not just recently to coincide with COVID — I’ve been saying for decades that my worst nightmare is the evolution of a new infection that jumps species easily from an animal model to a human that’s a respiratory virus, because those are the ones that can spread easily, and that it is highly efficient in its ability to spread from person to person, and that it has a high degree of morbidity and mortality. That’s what I was always saying would be my worst nightmare.
And here we are.
Fauci: Here we are, folks. My worst nightmare. To put it bluntly, I’ve been doing this for 36 years, and this is the most unprecedented, disturbing situation we’ve had because of the potential of being what it is and not just potential. It’s a global pandemic.
Let’s talk about balancing hope with pragmatism, which is kind of what the public part of your job is. What have you seen since January that’s amped up your hope? What makes you feel positive as we move forward?
Fauci: I think it’s the capability of our scientific community to come up with solutions. I mean, we are well into the development of a vaccine, which is the fastest that we’ve ever gone from the recognition of a new pathogen, in this case a virus. And starting off on vaccine development with multiple candidates [being tested] in humans already.
Hopefully by the end of this year we will develop a vaccine we can deploy. We can never guarantee that. You can never, ever guarantee the success of a vaccine. We just have good experience to know that we are aspirationally, cautiously optimistic that we will have one by the end of the year.
If we do that, that will overwhelmingly be the fastest we’ve ever gotten a vaccine. That gives me hope. The fact that we are working hard on developing different therapies so that as we get into the fall and winter season we hopefully will have a couple of therapies that have shown to be effective.
We’ve already proven in one randomized control trial with remdesivir that it has a statistically significant but modest effect on decreasing the time it takes to recover in hospitalized patients with lung disease.
The other thing is that we know that when we do physical separation, we can actually blunt the effect of the spread of the virus. The only difficulty with that, as you well know, is that when you shut down society to prevent physical closeness and interaction, it has unintended consequences on the economy, on employment, even on the health of individuals who need medical care for other things besides coronavirus. So, it’s a complicated situation.