As several coronavirus vaccines inch closer toward FDA approval, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert has called on the public to double down on public health measures. Dr. Anthony Fauci, in a virtual discussion with The Hastings Center on Thursday, said the eventual vaccine is meant to protect the individual from getting sick from the coronavirus, but may not prevent that person from spreading the virus to others.
Fauci, when discussing Pfizer and Moderna’s results in clinical trials, explained that the vaccines are being evaluated to see if they prevent clinically apparent disease in the individual, and also to see if it prevents severe disease in a person who was inoculated. However, it is not yet clear what impact the vaccines may have on transmission.
"We have the same issue with influenza,” Fauci said, noting that the two coronavirus vaccines are far more effective than the seasonal flu vaccine. “You can get vaccinated with influenza and you won’t get sick, but it won’t necessarily prevent you from getting infected – although you won’t know you’re infected because you’ll either get mild or no symptoms.”
The same concept applies to the eventual COVID-19 vaccine, he said.
"The issue is that you’re not going to be completely protected against a degree of infection that you might not even notice that you might be able to spread to others,” he said. “Which is the reason why the message you may have heard me say over the last couple weeks in the media is that getting vaccinated with a highly efficacious vaccine does not mean that you’re going to abandon completely public health measures.”
Much debate over mask-wearing and whether it’s beneficial to the wearer or is helpful in stopping the spread has divided the country, particularly as states reenter lockdown modes. Fauci said the public health measures, which include social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, and frequent handwashing should be routine until the level of virus in the community becomes minuscule so that the risk of infection is no longer a threat.
Communication, especially as the issues become politically polarized, has been especially difficult, Fauci said, adding that part of the challenge when implementing a public health policy is that it has to be an “all in this together” effort. With recent polls suggesting a decent amount of vaccine hesitancy across the nation, it doesn’t indicate that mass vaccination efforts will be a particularly easy effort.
"What we need to do, in a very clear, understandable way, is explain and I try to do this as often as I possibly can – that the speed [of vaccine development] itself is a reflection of scientific advances,” he said. “In other words, the technology of making a vaccine is not your grandfather’s technology – it’s the 21st century technology.”
He added that the federal funding and billions of dollars invested at-risk for development and pre-manufacturing orders have helped speed up the timeline by months if not years.
"Speed has nothing to do with compromising safety or scientific integrity,” he said.
As of Thursday, the US had tallied over 11.6 million cases of coronavirus, and more than 251,000 deaths.