Corona virus: what’s next? Interview with Biden’s adviser Anthony Fauci

What’s next in the fight against the corona virus? The immunologist Anthony Fauci is the chief advisor to US President Biden and gives a perspective for the next few months.

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Anthony Fauci has advised every US President since Ronald Reagan. The 81-year-old director of the influential National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is fighting the final battle of his career: the coronavirus. He has publicly tangled with former President Donald Trump on several occasions. The immunologist is in the crosshairs of criticism – or is revered. An interview about the central questions of this time: What will happen next with the corona virus? And what are the lessons for the future?

Dr. Fauci, in the USA a court has just cleared the mask requirement, and social distancing no longer plays a major role – life feels like it did before Corona. Are we making a huge mistake?

I don’t think it’s a huge mistake. But I don’t think we’re back to normal either. We would like to be, we would like to be, but we are not. The reason for this: The virus still exists. Here in the USA we had four major corona waves. We’re just getting over the omicron wave. We, as well as the EU and UK, are relaxing indoor mask rules, although we are now dealing with the very contagious BA.2 variant. We know that immunity to the virus does not last long. And not as many people are vaccinated as we would like. In the US, only around 67 percent of the population is vaccinated – and only half of them are boosted. Even if we would like to go back to normality, we are still vulnerable.

The bad news is we still have a lot of positive cases. The good news, however, is that the hospitalization rate is not increasing in proportion. Nevertheless, the unvaccinated still belong to the vulnerable group. And I think the reality is that we haven’t gotten back to normal like we knew it before Corona.

You just mentioned the four corona waves. German Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach recently said that he feared a new wave with a particularly deadly corona variant in the autumn. Would you agree with that?

It’s hard to predict. But I think what he’s pointing out is that there’s always the danger of a new variant. We should remember that the vaccines worked well together with the booster even on different variants. At Omikron we saw that two doses of vaccine were not enough. But the booster vaccination has significantly increased protection.

Over time, however, this vaccination protection wears off again. We fear that there may be another wave in autumn, when it gets colder again and more people stay indoors. That is why it is now important to vaccinate as many people as possible. We just have to get better at vaccination, there’s no doubt about that.

You are President Biden’s chief medical adviser. The White House has announced an international corona summit for May 12th. What are your hopes?

We wish for more intensive international cooperation. In concrete terms, this means that we have to work on not only getting the vaccines to the developing countries. But also to build the infrastructure and vaccinate the people. Because as long as the corona virus is still circulating, there is still a risk of a new variant that will affect everyone. people in both rich and poor countries. We saw that with the Delta variant from India and Omikron from South Africa. Even if you think you are safe in your developed country, you are not while the virus is circulating around the world.

You have advised every US President since Ronald Reagan. Especially under Donald Trump there were many press conferences that can undoubtedly be described as special. For example, he suggested that an antimalarial drug or the injection of disinfectant could help against Corona. Now you are advising the current US President Joe Biden. How challenging have the past two years been for you as a scientist?

Regardless of the President, dealing with a global pandemic that is affecting so many people around the world and in my own country is an enormous challenge. However, it was particularly difficult under the presidency of Donald Trump. There was an enormous discrepancy between scientific facts and public statements. There was wishful thinking that the virus would go away on its own. Even today, under a federal government that listens closely to science, we have state-level governors who are not pro-vaccine. This is very unfortunate.

You have been an expert in research and combating HIV and AIDS since the 1980s. Now, only four decades later, the world is fighting Corona. Will we see potentially deadly threats more often in the future?

Certainly our descendants – our children and grandchildren – will experience pandemics. We cannot say whether that will be the case next year, in five years, or in 50 years. And that’s a problem. We must always be prepared. And we must never lose our memory of previous pandemics. Otherwise we will have big problems.

A few months ago you said when this pandemic is over go for a beach vacation. Have you already booked?

(laughs) No, not yet. But I hope it still works. We still have to make sure we get the situation under control as much as possible. We’re going in the right direction. We are much better off today than we were a year ago. But we must not become careless.

You are 81 years old. You could have retired long ago. Are you staying until the pandemic is over?

I will not be here until the end of Covid-19. Then I would probably be 120 and Covid-19 would still be here. But I want to stay until we can say: The phase of the pandemic is at a level where we as a society can live without major disruption. And I think we’re on the right track – and almost there! And then I’ll come and visit you in Germany!

What should your legacy be?

I hope my legacy is that I have served my country and indirectly the rest of the world. I have been leading this institute for around 40 years. We dedicated ourselves to the fight against HIV early on. In a way it has served the people greatly. Long after I’m gone I hope people will say he did his best. He made an effort. And he did something good for the world.

dr Fauci, thanks for the interview. / ldh

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