He is not. But his assessment that we will live with Covid-19 for years is a startling admission from a longtime infectious disease expert who said the country could flatten the curve and reach herd immunityfirst through social distancing and then vaccination.
The ever-mutating, highly contagious coronavirus, which no country has defeated, crossed out these plans. As his career comes to an end, Fauci wants to help rebuild the national bonds that the pandemic has severed and alleviate the partisan polarization that has turned him and science itself into a lightning rod. He even finds similarities with former President Donald Trump, his nemesis in the first year of the pandemic.
“We have an interesting relationship,” the Brooklyn native Fauci said. “Two guys from New York, different in their views and their ideology, but nevertheless, two guys who grew up in the same environment of this city. I think we’re connected to each other in that regard.”
Fauci says he’s ready for an onslaught of attacks that could come in the Republican-controlled House or Senate next year — many of whom are involved in interim campaigns mocking lockdowns, school closures and masking demands that Fauci said were necessary pandemic precautions — but insists this is not part of his retirement plans.
They will still try to follow me. I mean, probably less if I’m not at work,” he admitted, sitting in his office on the sprawling NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. “I don’t take that into account when choosing a career.”
If called to testify, Fauci will highlight the importance of vaccines and boosters, but admits there may never be a definitive moment when a country can claim victory over an evolving virus that has killed more than a million Americans and left thousands with long-lasting covid symptoms. .
The toll from the disease has slowed as a result of vaccination, acquired immunity, and less lethal strains. But he continues to kill more than 300 Americans a day, and there is always a fear of a deadlier option.
“What we have right now, I think we are almost at a steady state,” Fauci said.
The next chapter of the pandemic
Americans are baffled as to what this means for them, especially after federal officials said last week that all adults should get a second booster dose now – despite drug companies suggesting updated shots targeting the latter strains may be available this fall.
At one point, health officials, including Fauci, expressed cautious optimism that the original regimen and one booster dose might be enough. Now, amid what Fauci says is a combination of rapidly evolving options and stagnating vaccination rates, Americans are wondering when this vaccination cycle will end.
“That’s a reasonable question,” Fauci said. “But the reason for not waiting is that we’re not exactly in a lull.”
More than 130,000 cases of Covid-19 are being reported daily, and according to officials and public health experts, the figure could be four or five times lower than the actual infection rate as people are being tested at home or simply don’t know they are transmit the virus.
“I think, although I don’t know for sure, [that] over the next cycle or so, we will be approaching a once-a-year spike like the flu,” Fauci said, expressing the uncertainty that haunts scientists and the Biden administration as they speculate about the speed at which the new option could take hold. .
Even with the hope of moving to a schedule similar to the flu shot, this speed, with new strains sometimes becoming dominant within weeks, humiliates disease experts and vaccine developers around the world.
Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna submitted data on updated vaccines targeting Omicron to the FDA advisory panel in late June, and vaccines are predicted to be ready by late August. By that time, the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants already accounted for more than half of the cases in the US. Reformulating vaccinations for these strains will extend the timeline until mid-autumn.
It’s “not impossible, but more difficult” to develop vaccines for the next dominant coronavirus strain, Fauci said, due to the pace of development of options. He predicted that a more regular vaccination schedule could take anywhere from six months to two years.
Where does Fauci go from here
Now the question is, is anyone else listening.
Some rejected his recommendations to get vaccinated, masked or limit social gatherings from the start, Fauci admits. But now even cautious Americans, respectful of specialists, are tired.
“It’s getting harder to get people to listen, because even obedient people want this to be left behind,” Fauci said. It doesn’t mean giving up, he insists. “What am I trying to convince them [of], using my method of communication, we are not asking you to drastically change your lifestyle. We are not asking you to really interfere with what you are doing with your life. We’re just asking you to consider a few simple, workable mitigation techniques.”
These methods are mired in guerrilla fighting. Federal courts overturned the Biden administration’s vaccine or test requirements and mask requirements. Vaccination rates have dropped especially among Republicans. While nearly 80 percent of eligible Americans have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine, less than half received a booster dose. Only 30% of children aged 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated. low expectations for higher rates among toddlers and infants.
Sitting in his office in March 2020, days before a federal lockdown virtually ended face-to-face meetings for several months, Fauci mused guerrillas divided over coronavirus response were already more visceral than early battles with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, when the first president he served, Ronald Reagan, refused to acknowledge the worsening of the epidemic, and many politicians blamed gays.
Asked what has changed in the more than two years since that conversation, Fauci focused on how to build trust in the science that led to his decisions.
“I don’t think they have anything to say about science,” he said of congressional Republicans calling for an investigation into his leadership and response to Covid-19. “If that’s what you want to explore, be my guest. I’m telling someone that it’s important to follow basic public health principles… what are you going to research about this?”
Notably, however, when asked what he wants his legacy to be, it is not a response to the coronavirus. Fauci points to the virus that originally led him to research on infectious diseases, and the role of director of NIAID in 1984, HIV/AIDS.
This work, he is quick to point out, has always had bipartisan support, except for Reagan’s hesitation. At Fauci’s urging, Trump vowed in an address to the US Congress end the HIV epidemic in America. President Barack Obama unveiled the federal government’s first national HIV/AIDS strategy in 2010. And with President George W. Bush, Fauci said, he achieved what “maybe the most important thing I’ve done in my career” – the conclusion of a presidential emergency. Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, is a global program estimated by the State Department. saved 21 million lives.
In the decades since Fauci began working on HIV/AIDS, methods of treating and preventing the virus have changed. People live with HIV for years or can prevent transmission with daily pills and now injections every few months. But an HIV vaccine remains elusive and, according to Fauci, is likely to be many years away.
“I don’t think there is anything else that I, Tony Fauci, can do other than leave an institution where I have selected the best people in the country, if not the world, to continue my vision,” he said. . “I don’t have to be there for HIV because we have enough good people who can pass it on.”