Though the development of COVID-19 vaccines is promising, Dr. Anthony Fauci urged listeners to maintain health safety protocols for the foreseeable future during a virtual lecture to the University of Virginia on Wednesday.
Hosted as part of the UVa School of Medicine’s Medical Center Hour, Fauci gave an expansive virtual lecture on COVID-19 and the challenges it poses.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases National Institutes of Health has become a well-known public figure in recent months due to his work addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, even inspiring the name suggestion of “Dr. Anthony Fautree” for Charlottesville’s Grand Illumination tree.
Fauci’s lecture covered the beginning of the virus as well as the latest developments in COVID-19 epidemiology, transmission and prevention of transmission and other related topics.
Given the recent media attention on two vaccines, both of which have shown to be 95% effective in clinical trials, Fauci said it may be tempting for people to become more lax with safety protocols. However, with the growing case numbers in the United States and the holiday season arriving, he said now is not the time to stop taking precautions, such as maintaining social distancing and wearing masks.
“We don’t want that to be a signal to the community that we have a vaccine so let your guard down,” he said. “No, it should actually be an incentive to double down until we get everybody vaccinated.”
Citing a recent report, Fauci said only around 50% of Americans have expressed a likelihood to get vaccinated, posing a difficulty for reaching herd immunity, which would need to be around 75-80% of the population.
Rates of trust in a vaccine are lower in minority communities, Fauci said, which is also a concern due to the higher rates of COVID-19 infections in these communities. Community figures of trust will need to reach out in order to sway these communities to trust a vaccine, Fauci said.
When answering an audience question later in the lecture, Fauci said other ways to convince people to get the vaccine would depend on their reasons for avoiding it. If it is an issue of access, then wider, more affordable access is key, but some people have expressed concerns that the process was rushed.
Fauci urged people with concerns to look into the process of approval, which he said has been transparent and independent.
“Because of a lot of the noise that comes out of Washington, in this divisive time that we’re living in some people may say, ‘Well, I don’t really trust that they try to rush this out to look good,’” he said. “I can tell you, this has been an independent decision and it has been done in the classic way that decisions are made about vaccine safety and efficacy.”
In terms of how the vaccine will be distributed, Fauci showed part of a presentation the National Academy gave the Centers for Disease Control. The potential model was broken into four phases, with medical workers and those at high risk in the first category, teachers and other essential workers in the second and others with certain risks in the third.
The thought behind the suggested model is to administer the vaccine to those most at risk initially, he said, though ultimately the distribution decision will be left up to the CDC.
Fauci also cautioned that with the seasonal change, more cases of asymptomatic spread are being traced back to innocent occurrences such as groups of friends and family meeting indoors because of the cold weather. A week ahead of Thanksgiving, this is cause for particular concern as many plan to see family for the holiday.
“Families need to make an individual decision based on those in the family that might be vulnerable, such as the elderly and those with underlying conditions again,” he said.
A more recent discovery is that the virus can be transmitted via aerosol particles that linger in the air for a while, particularly in areas with poor ventilation, Fauci said. While the virus can be transmitted this way, Fauci qualified that the amount of spread this way is hard to measure but likely smaller and can be offset by wearing masks and taking other precautions.
The hour-long lecture, which was viewed by more than 1,000 people live, will be posted within four days to the Medical Center Hour’s YouTube channel.