Covid-19 Update With Dr. Tony Fauci: Forecast For The Holidays, Making Science Bipartisan Again, Vaccinating Our Children, More

Earlier this week, I sat down with my good friend Dr. Anthony Fauci for a Bipartisan Policy Center Covid-19 event to discuss the latest on the pandemic, the forecast for the holidays, and his predictions for 2022 and beyond. Dr. Fauci has provided valued and informed insight throughout our nation’s pandemic response, a task that has left him with applause by many and death threats by others. His knowledge gleaned from his decades-long leadership of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) extended into our fireside chat, where we examined a wide variety of Covid-related topics ranging from childhood vaccinations to public and global health at large.

Dr. Fauci’s Holiday Advice

As we approach the holidays, many are concerned about the current state of the pandemic and what this means for traveling and visiting with family and friends. Dr. Fauci was pleased to share that, “if you get vaccinated and your family’s vaccinated, you can feel good about enjoying a typical Thanksgiving, Christmas with your family and close friends.” He recommended continued mask-wearing in public indoor spaces since we are still seeing about 70,000 new cases per day. 

Rising vaccination rates have played a vital role in combatting the surge sparked by the Delta variant. Dr. Fauci noted that we now have, “85% of our elderly individuals fully vaccinated and 98% with at least one dose.” Notably, “75% to 80% of adults have received at least one dose. But we still have about 60 million people in the country who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not yet gotten vaccinated,” and that’s excluding the 28 million children ages 5 to 11 who are newly eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine at a lower dosage.

Flattening the Curve: Where it Flattens Matters

As we move out of a pandemic and into an endemic mode in coming months, we want the curve to flatten at the lowest possible value. Dr. Fauci explained in this scenario, the virus will still be present—indeed, Covid-19 is here to stay—but it won’t be overwhelming our healthcare system, and ideally vaccination rates will be high enough so that it no longer disrupts our social and economic interactions.

Vaccination is key to the best outcome. Dr. Fauci encouraged vaccination of children ages 5 to 11, noting that while about 50% of children infected experience no symptoms, this age group is quite susceptible to infection and some experience serious illness (with between 65 and 100 deaths and over 8,000 hospitalizations on record). Clinical trials demonstrated a very encouraging 91% efficacy in this age group with the Pfizer mRNA vaccine.

Bipartisanship & Science

The pandemic has provided many painful lessons that we can use to respond better to where we are at right now and can lay the groundwork for improved response in future pandemics. There is a tendency to only focus on the shortcomings of our response, but, in fact, there are some extremely positive takeaways as well. The most accomplished of these can be seen in the benefit of our scientific investment in biomedical research and the resulting mRNA vaccines. A few years ago, I would have told you it was impossible to develop a highly effective vaccine so rapidly. But our investment in research, technology, and science allowed us to do just this. Rather than celebrating this feat, though, we have resorted to questioning its legitimacy. This is a shocking public response to lifesaving technology.

Science and research, though not perfect, are supposed to be practiced irrespective of political ties. Historically, this has been the case. When I served in the Senate, I worked with Dr. Fauci on PEPFAR legislation, which is the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. This strategic health diplomacy was groundbreaking and made possible due to bipartisan effort, and nearly two decades since its enactment, it is responsible for 20 million lives saved. Also, during my tenure, Republican-led leadership doubled the funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the very entity whose suggestions some now discredit and question.

Dr. Fauci and I agreed that it wasn’t shortcomings in the science, but rather in our ineffective communication of the science, that has led to the rise in public skepticism. “We have to do a better job of communicating,” Dr. Fauci emphasized, observing that, “Many people, instead of marveling at the speed with which we were able to do something in an unprecedented manner,” assumed we had cut corners, not understanding this scientific breakthrough was built on decades of heavy federal investment.

We have forgotten that public health is an integral component of our national security, requiring a unified front at all levels of government. In our fight against Covid-19, many have ignored public health and have made the other side of the aisle the enemy rather than the virus itself. Public health decisions should be based on the best available research and science, not on ideological platforms. We need to do a much better job of communicating this as policy makers, as scientists, and as leaders. We can start by both advocating for more conservative voices in public health and working to increase our scientific literacy across the board. As Dr. Fauci put it, “Science is self-correcting.” While it is not perfect, it allows us to make the most informed decisions given the best information at any point in time.

Closing Thoughts

In closing, Dr. Fauci assured us that the pandemic will come to an end, but how quickly is dependent on us: on how well we vaccinate, on how well we administer boosters, on how well we protect ourselves and each other. It is a task dependent on each and every one of us, and not just within the United States.  Pandemics know no borders, necessitating a global response and global preparedness as we fend off variants. As a wealthy nation and world leader, we have a moral responsibility to aid lower- and middle-income countries. The U.S. is currently doing more than all other countries combined—we have given or pledged approximately 1.1 billion vaccine doses—and we need to continue to do what we can for the developing world. We are in this pandemic together; we will get out of it together.

Dr. Tony Fauci joined me for the Bipartisan Policy Center Fireside Chat on November 15, 2021. Our discussion appears on A Second Opinion podcast on November 18, 2021. For more of Dr. Fauci’s insights, listen to Episode 153 of A Second Opinion.