He may be speaking from behind a mask made from the jerseys of US National Soccer team players, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been anything but silent on some of the biggest coronavirus stories this week.
Here’s Fauci on Russia’s coronavirus vaccine, what we must accomplish before flu season, if Covid-19 will “go away," who will get the first vaccines, and whether some people’s immune systems may be ready to recognize coronavirus – even if they’ve never been sick.
Inverse is aggregating Fauci's comments regularly in the "Fauci Dispatch" series, as the White House has severely limited his visibility to the public.
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from August 5, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from July 29, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from July 29, 2020 here
Fauci on Russia’s coronavirus vaccine – This week, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia granted regulatory approval to coronavirus vaccine. Critically, permission was granted despite no results from a phase III clinical trial, the biggest and most crucial human testing phase for vaccines. Trials allegedly began on August 12, but Putin's daughter has already received it, Reuters reports.
Speaking to National Geographic, Fauci expressed concerns over whether Russia had truly proved the vaccine was safe and effective.
“I seriously doubt that they’ve done that,” he said.
The Backdrop – Russia's vaccine is called Sputnik V, a callback to the 1957 satellite launched by the Soviet Union. The vaccine was developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Institute, who have conducted “months” of testing as CNN reported on Tuesday, but not that crucial third stage.
Phase III clinical trials typically enroll thousands of people and compare the vaccine to a placebo. These studies are large enough to tell if there are rare side-effects from the vaccine. It’s also the only stage of testing that can truly determine if the vaccine protects from infection beyond simply triggering an immune response. The FDA has said a vaccine will is considered effective if it protects 50 percent of people from infection.
Russia’s decision to skip that third and final stage has led to criticism of the vaccine even within Russia and suggestions that this is a political statement rather than one driven by rigorous science.
Fauci on flu season – Speaking with ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir, Fauci indicated that he agreed with a grim premonition made by CDC director Robert Redfield in July: If the coronavirus isn’t controlled before flu season, it could create “one the most difficult times that we’ve experienced in American public health."
“If we go into the fall and the winter, David, with the same situation… we will have upticks of percent positive, and then you have the inevitable surging of infection,” Fauci said.
The Backdrop – In an interview with JAMA, Fauci suggested that we need to “get our arms around” new coronavirus cases ahead of the fall. In October, flu season ignites and people retreat indoors, where the virus spreads more readily.
He suggested that we need to bring cases down below 10,000 per day before the fall to ensure we can combat both threats.
As of August 11, the 7-day average of new cases across the United States was 53,723, according to New York Times data. That’s down from the mid-July peak, where the 7-day average was 65,426.
Fauci emphasized that we can get cases down as long as five crucial actions are taken:
1. Wear a mask
2. Avoid crowds, especially bars
3. Stay 6 feet apart or more
4. If you do gather, do so outside
5. Wash your hands
Fauci on “cross-reactivity” in the immune system – Speaking to McClatchy, Fauci discussed the findings of an August 4 paper published in Science showing that exposure to certain common cold viruses may help the immune system recognize SARS-CoV-2.
Fauci said it was “conceivable” that T-cells made in response to common cold viruses “could actually hang around and when you’re exposed to Covid-19 could have some degree of protection.”
The Backdrop – Conversations around immunity have generally centered around antibodies, but antibodies are only one weapon within the immune system. The body can also activate T-cells, which act like the immune system’s cavalry. Different kinds of T-cells destroy infected cells, or help produce antibodies. They also tend to remember viruses that you’ve encountered in the past and can spring into action if you encounter them again.
The Science paper examined blood samples of 25 participants which were collected before the pandemic. Those samples contained T-cells that could recognize four common-cold coronaviruses. Those same T-cells were able to recognize SARS-CoV-2 as well.
Fauci’s comment suggested this immunological memory might explain why some people only suffer mild symptoms of the coronavirus – they have a trained immunological army that can recognize pieces of it.
The authors, however, told Inverse that we’re “still missing an important piece.” We don’t know if these T-cells affect how severe the disease is, or if it helps some people fight off infection.
Fauci on whether the virus will “go away" – In an interview with Reuters Fauci highlighted that we will be living with coronavirus forever, but that doesn’t mean that it will still impact our lives as drastically as it does right now.
“I don’t think we’re going to eradicate this from the planet... because it’s such a highly transmissible virus that seems unlikely," he said.
The backdrop – Fauci’s comment flies in the face of an assertion made by President Trump at a White House press briefing on August 5: “It’s going away, it will go away, things go away, absolutely,” the president said.
Fauci is emphasizing that we probably will never truly eradicate the coronavirus. Eradication means that the worldwide rate of infection is permanently driven down to zero thanks to “deliberate efforts.” According to the World Health Organization that has only happened twice before, to smallpox and rinderpest virus.
Covid-19 doesn’t have to totally “go away” for it to stop impacting our lives. If case counts are driven down, a vaccine is developed and adequate treatments emerge, we may be able to live with the coronavirus in a non-pandemic state of existence. As Fauci added in the Reuters interview:
“We may need to go through a season of it, and then by the next season if we have a vaccine it won’t be a pandemic, it won’t be immobilizing the world, it won’t be destroying the economy.”
Fauci on who will get the first coronavirus vaccines – In a conversation with National Geographic on Thursday, Fauci reacted to looming question that hovers over the creation of the coronavirus vaccine: who is actually going to get it?
"Ultimately, arrangements have been made to have enough vaccine for everybody in this country," he said. But that's not going to be the case right away.
The backdrop – As the Wall Street Journal reported on August 5, the CDC anticipates having 10 million to 20 million doses available when the vaccine is first debuted. Sarah Mbaeyi, a CDC Medical Officer said that "given the initial anticipated supply, not all groups that are deemed a priority will be able to be vaccinated at once."
At the National Geographic event, Fauci said that decisions about who gets vaccines (and when) are typically made by CDC, with guidance from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Fauci said that we are now adding an additional layer of advisory with insight from the National Academy of Medicine. This will insight will be coming from scientists, ethicists, and "community members," Fauci added.
He added that we don't know how the prioritization will unfold but that, if it follows previous trajectories, priority will go to healthcare workers, front line emergency responders, and individuals who are more vulnerable, like the elderly and people with underlying conditions.