Winning the War on COVID through Vaccines Part 1: Interview with Dr. Fauci

It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for: our three-part blockbuster plenary on COVID-19 vaccines, sponsored by Johnson & Johnson. (And according to the chat box, we have attendees from California to Kansas to Italy to Vietnam, where it’s almost 1 AM!)

The began with an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases–basically the Brad Pitt of the pandemic, right?

BIO President and CEO Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath asked him how this pandemic is different from other virus outbreaks, like HIV, SARS, and Ebola.

“Those other outbreaks had a degree of containment and finiteness to them from the very beginning,” he said.

“The entire world never felt threatened by any given disease,” he added. 

Dr. Fauci’s worst nightmare

 “The emergence of a brand-new infection that likely jumped from an animal host, respiratory born, high-degree of transmissibility and significant degree of morbidity or mortality.”

We’ve had outbreaks with one or two of those characteristics—but never all four.

COVID-19 meets the criteria for “his worst nightmare.”

He was surprised “how rapidly it just took over the planet,” he said. “This took about a month to go around the world.” And it’s not over yet.

The industry response to COVID-19

“I’m very heartened by the fact that the industry has stepped to the plate—very much differently than what we saw with SARS.”

“The industry is not stupid—they figured it out!”

He expects “more than one winner in the vaccine field, because we will need vaccines for the entire world—billions and billions of doses.” The same with therapeutics—multiple different kinds of therapeutics, from direct antivirals to medicines that treat hyper-inflammatory response.

The federal government has partnered with biopharmas to “de-risk” involvement in manufacturing the doses before completion of trials, financing production of doses so it’s ready. They’re also giving companies access to clinical trial sites built in the past.

We’ve never seen this extent of collaboration between industry and federal government, he added.

What’s the latest knowledge on how COVID attacks the human body?

We’re still learning about that, he said.

“I thought that HIV was a complicated disease,” he continued. “It’s really simple compared to what’s going on with COVID-19.” There’s a huge range in terms of the severity of coronavirus symptoms.

“We’re at almost the beginning of understanding” COVID-19, especially the long-term effects. We don’t have any idea what will happen to people who recover, because we’ve only been studying this disease for four months.

The African American population “is getting hit with a double whammy”

Dr. Fauci talked about why COVID-19 disproportionately affects African Americans. COVID-19 shines “a bright light” on health disparities in the United States. 

So, how does Dr. Fauci relax?

“The one thing I’ve made sure I do is to get some sleep.” 

“I unwind mostly by exercise,” he added. He’s been running with a mask on!

Last question: What was his wife’s reaction to having Brad Pitt play him on Saturday Night Live?

“If you start taking that kind of stuff seriously…you’re really in trouble,” he laughed.

“I’m not as good looking as Brad Pitt and no matter what you do to me, I’m never going to be as good looking as Brad Pitt.”

Now there’s one thing we disagree with Dr. Fauci on…

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