Time's list of the most influential people is in and Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is, unsurprisingly, on the list. This week he's also been the center of attention for another reason.
Fauci was in Washington D.C. on Wednesday to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. He was joined by Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC, Stephen Hahn commissioner of the FDA, and Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health (he coordinates coronavirus testing).
Here are some key, dramatic moments from that testimony. Also included: Fauci's take on trusting government health agencies and his reflection on a sad milestone in America's battle against Covid-19.
As a public service, 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 September 16, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from September 2, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from August 26, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from August 19, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from August 13, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from August 5, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from July 29, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from July 22, 2020 here
Fauci testifies in DC on Wednesday.
Fauci and Paul at the Senate – Speaking before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Fauci pushed back on an allegation made by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Paul alleged that New York has controlled the coronavirus because the state achieved herd immunity and added that the state is "no longer having the pandemic."
"To those who argue that the lockdown flattened the curve in New York and New Jersey, the evidence argues otherwise,” Paul said.
"No, you misconstrued that Senator, and you’ve done that repeatedly in the past,” Fauci responded.
The backdrop – The percentage of positive coronavirus tests in New York is less than one percent, making it one of the lowest in the country. This is not because New York is anywhere near achieving herd immunity.
As of September 12, 19.9 percent of New Yorkers who were tested for antibodies had them – suggesting that only 20 percent overall were exposed to the virus since the city became the pandemic's American epicenter. That's far from the threshold of herd immunity, which scientists estimate to be somewhere between 60 to 80 percent of the population, according to the World Health Organization (other estimates put that threshold as low as 50 percent).
Even then, the whole concept of herd immunity isn't as clear-cut as it seems (unless achieved through vaccination). We are still unsure of how long antibodies may offer protection from the virus – especially since cases of reinfection have been confirmed elsewhere in the world.
Rather, as Fauci notes, New York's now flattened curve is likely due to stringent social distancing measures, mask-wearing mandates, and gatherings that have been shifted from indoors to outdoors, where the virus may spread less easily.
How many coronavirus vaccines will be available – Another key moment from the Senate testimony hinged on the availability of Covid-19 vaccines, and how those vaccines will be rolled out.
"In November you’ll probably be maybe 50 million doses available. By December maybe another 100-plus million," Fauci said.
The backdrop – This week Johnson and Johnson's vaccine candidate advanced to the third and final stage of human testing, making it the 10th vaccine candidate to do so. Unlike other candidates, that vaccine may only require one dose.
Still, even if we get through the harrowing approval process, the vaccine will need to be rolled out. At the moment, the White House's interim playbook specifies that the groups that will receive the vaccine first are frontline healthcare workers, populations at higher risk (like the elderly), and essential workers.
"I would trust the CDC, and I would trust the FDA."
Redfield, the director of the CDC, adds that the general public might expect to get the vaccine in summer 2021.
Trust at the CDC and the FDA – Speaking at The Atlantic Festival on Tuesday, Fauci urged Americans that, despite dramatic headlines and reversals of opinion, the scientific integrity of the CDC and the FDA remain intact.
"I think we could put that behind us right now,” he said. “I would trust the CDC, and I would trust the FDA.”
The backdrop – Communicating about the coronavirus has been a persistent problem for government agencies, from a changing mandate on masks, to hastily updating testing guidelines (and then reversing course). Most recently, the CDC website was updated to reflect the fact that coronavirus may spread through aerosols, and then, the agency hastily walked that change back.
Some of these changes, like the CDC's embrace of mask-wearing in April, reflect the continuously updated science. Other changes reflect political infighting over coronavirus messaging.
Speaking to The Atlantic, Fauci also addressed attempts by Michael Caputo, a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services (now on a leave of absence after accusing government scientists of "sedition") and his former science adviser, Paul Alexander, to censor scientific communication about the coronavirus. (Alexander was dismissed from HHS last week).
Emails obtained by POLITICO revealed that Caputo attempted to add caveats to the CDC's regular Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports to better align with the president's statements. Alexander demanded to see the reports in full before publication, rather than a synopsis typically given.
Fauci told The Atlantic over email that he personally told Alexander to "take a hike" when he tried to interfere with his own media appearances.
After all this, however, Fauci still argues that the scientific process overseen by government agencies can be trusted. It's the messaging where things can go awry.
Fauci on a sad milestone – The Senate testimony, and the political turmoil at the CDC, occurred as the US hit an especially tragic moment in its fight agast Covid-19. Speaking to CNN Fauci responded to the news that 200,000 people have died of coronavirus in the United States:
"The idea of 200,000 deaths is really very sobering, and in some respects, stunning," he said.
The backdrop – When 100,000 people died of Covid-19 in June, The New York Times ran a memorable cover: a simple list of the names of those lost. That loss was "incalculable" and now it has doubled.
However, as Fauci told CNN, we do have the tools to make sure that these milestones don't keep accumulating: masks, social distancing, and soon a vaccine that could help declaw the virus, even if it doesn't end the pandemic.