July 18, 2020 – The nation’s top infectious disease expert said public health officials have to do a better job of reaching the nation’s young people, who have been driving a surge in COVID-19 cases in the South and West.
Anthony Fauci, MD, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also said he is “cautiously optimistic” about having a COVID vaccine by year’s end and that optimism isn’t “hype.”
The remarks came during a wide-ranging interview on “Coronavirus in Context,” a video series hosted by John Whyte, MD, WebMD’s chief medical officer.
During the interview, Fauci said he didn’t blame young people for the rise in cases, many of which have been linked to bars and parties.
Since younger people usually have mild or no symptoms — they may not think they’re vulnerable. Fauci said this type of thinking is “understandable and innocent” but “not correct.”
“By allowing yourself to get infected or not caring if you do get infected, you are propagating a pandemic,” Fauci said.
“It doesn’t end with you,” he said. “The chances are you’re going to infect someone else, who will then infect someone else, and then someone who’s vulnerable … will get infected.”
That’s why he’s made an effort to appear on various livestreams in recent weeks to spread the message. He also appeared on Julia Roberts’ Instagram and Lil Wayne’s podcast.
“We’re not operating in a vacuum, and we have to keep getting the message across,” he said. “Blaming won’t help.”
Vaccine Optimism Isn’t ‘Hype’
Fauci told Whyte that he is “cautiously optimistic” about having a vaccine by the end of the year or beginning of 2021.
Others have pushed back against the idea, calling the timeline unrealistic. This week, Merck CEO Ken Frazier said in an interview with Harvard Business School that the hype around a vaccine is a “grave disservice” to the public. But on Friday, Fauci reemphasized his message of optimism about vaccine candidates that are in clinical trials.
“I don’t think that it’s hype. It’s real,” he said.
“There are risks that we’re taking, but they’re financial risks,” he said. “They’re not risks to safety. They’re not compromising scientific integrity.”
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and federal government are subsidizing at least four vaccine candidates that are quickly moving along in clinical trials, he added.
Although no one can guarantee anything with vaccine development, Fauci believes that the end of 2020 will bring good news about a safe and effective vaccine
“We will get there,” he said. “We think it’s realistic.”
Universities, colleges and schools are wrestling with the question of what to do in August and September for the beginning of the academic year. Parents are trying to make decisions about whether to send their kids back to school, and teachers are attempting to find the best ways to keep everyone safe.
Fauci called it a “critical question” and said the “default position” of the American Academy of Pediatrics and other major medical groups is to send children back to school and keep schools open as much as possible, particularly due to the “ripple effect” of negative consequences that can occur when students stay home.
At the same time, decisions must depend on the viral activity in the local community, he said. The U.S. has more than 3,000 counties, and some have few coronavirus cases, but many others have a high enough number of cases to cause a concern. This could either mean not restarting school in person or bringing students back in a safe way that protects both students and teachers.
“That might be simple logistic things” such as spacing desks, alternating schedules to clean classes and teaching outside, he said. “There are creative ways of doing that.”
Although some people have stated that the risk of infection and transmission is lower in younger children, Fauci called the claims “anecdotal” and said there’s not enough data to know for sure. The NIH has started a study of 2,000 families to understand the way infection occurs between children and family members and how underlying conditions such as asthma and allergies play a role, but researchers don’t yet have an answer.
Even still, Fauci reminded people to be hopeful.
“This will end. It doesn’t seem that way now because we’ve been immersed in it for the last 5 to 6 months,” he said. “But it will end, and we will get back to normal.”