ASH 2020: Dr. Fauci Opens with Reflections on COVID-19
“Some degree of immunity is better than no immunity.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci urged immuno-compromised patients to get a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available during a wide ranging interview with American Society of Hematology (ASH) President Dr. Stephanie Lee on December 5, 2020. Healthy people should also get the vaccine to help protect everyone.
Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), touched on the process of determining vaccine efficacy, the pathology and history of coronaviruses, and speculated about coming years as the world tries to return to a pre-pandemic normal as he stressed, “this is a marathon.”
“We are living through something…historic [and] it will be months and months before there is wide-spread immunity” among the general population, cautioned Dr. Fauci. “I don’t think it will be one year” before returning to normal; it will depend on “how we, as a national and global community respond” including “a global program…to vaccinate everyone on the planet.”
Dr. Fauci was very optimistic about vaccines currently available and citing recent reports on a Moderna clinical trial which found “thirty severe events in placebo and not one from the vaccine” in trial participants. Warning about the possibility of people not taking the vaccine when one becomes available, he noted that “independent [with no business or political ties] safety boards will be essential to determine efficacy…a process that is not appreciated” by laypersons.
Another change in public perception is that “we need to change the discussion from ‘I’m afraid to get it’ to ‘when can I get it?,’” advised Dr. Fauci.
Since COVID-19 is an RNA virus, “it will continue to mutate as it spreads” noting that it was “unusual” for coronaviruses to become “more virulent” but, instead, “become more transmissible.” Citing the history of common colds, “many may have been pandemics centuries ago” but subsequent generations have developed better immune responses to make them tolerable.
However, one significant difference is “other coronaviruses that lead to the common cold [don’t have the same effect on the] upper respiratory tract” as COVID-19 does.
It is unclear how long immunity might last after one gets a coronavirus infection. “Reasonable projections,” said Dr. Fauci, “indicated immunity is measured in months-to-years” and that “the worst cases might induce more immunity,” but “more experience” is needed to draw definitive conclusions.
Dr. Fauci noted so-called “long haulers,” those infected but who aren’t hospitalized, may take a few weeks or longer to recover and could have persistent symptoms. Compared to those hospitalized with coronavirus-induced organ damage, the disease seems to affect each in different ways.
Essential to combatting spread of the coronavirus is “self-care”—how one takes care of oneself. “Individuals must “focus on what ‘I’ have to do,” noted Dr. Fauci, who makes an effort “to run three-to-four miles a day,” emphasizing the connection between health and exercise.
Dr. Lee asked, “What should we be doing to anticipate the next pandemic?” Dr. Fauci said NIAID is already “starting to think about it,” noting that pandemics are “not rhythmic.” The current pandemic is the fourth in the past 102 years.
“The concept of a universal coronavirus needs to be explored.” Dr. Fauci noted that coronavirus is “endemic in bats” and has a genetic signature that aligns closely with humans.
One positive that has come out of the pandemic experience is that it has created celebrities in public health. “It has shed light on health care workers who sacrifice daily as well as scientists who have created a vaccine in less than a year which is ground breaking—completely unthought of until this time.”
For additional insights about the most recent information about how COVID-19 impacts myeloma patients, see Dr. Joshua Richter’s recent Crowd Radio interview.
Myeloma Coach Program Director Rozalynn Hite and Myeloma Coach Vicki Jones contributed to this article.