On Wednesday, December 9, featured speaker for the special ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting and Exhibition session, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, said to attendees that the arrival of effective COVID-19 vaccines is good news, but he cautioned that the pandemic’s toll on public health toll will pick up steam before the vaccines are widely available.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) said he expects a difficult winter of COVID-19. Exposures that occurred during Thanksgiving gatherings and those that will happen during upcoming celebrations later this month are likely to further fuel an already explosive rise in infections.
“We already are in a substantial surge with an inflection that’s very steep,” Dr. Fauci said. “We in the public health sector have warned people, if at all possible, to forestall and cancel travel. Yet when you look at the people at the airports, we’ve had record numbers of people traveling.”
Dr. Fauci’s career began at NIAID in 1968, and he was named director in 1984 during the formative early years of the HIV epidemic. He said SARS-CoV-2 resembles HIV because both viruses spurred global public health crises. But while HIV has taken nearly 40 years to exact its toll—more than 30 million deaths worldwide and nearly 40 million living with HIV—the highly infectious coronavirus has spread illness and death globally in less than a year.
January 21, Dr. Fauci noted, was the first recognized [COVID-19] case in this country, and in just a few months, it “had immobilized the entire world.” Not since the 1918 flu pandemic, he said, has an infectious disease left the nation “gripped with fear and concern and record-breaking numbers of deaths and hospitalizations.”
Dr. Fauci said there have been some good developments on the therapeutic front about drugs such as dexamethasone and remdesivir for the treatment of advanced COVID-19 illness. Other medications, he noted, are under investigation.
“We’re testing the monoclonal antibodies, the convalescent plasma, and some of the antivirals,” Dr. Fauci said. Initial results from COVID-19 vaccine trials, he added, have exceeded even “our best expectations.”
He said buy-in from pharmacists and pharmacies will be critical to successfully and equitably distribute vaccines when they are available. His personal connection to pharmacy stems from his boyhood, when he assisted his father at Fauci Pharmacy in Brooklyn, New York.
Dr. Fauci said pharmacists and their fellow frontline healthcare providers have been an essential component of addressing the pandemic, and he said he’s buoyed by the work of these “heroes ... who put themselves at risk to their own health and safety to take care of people.” As the crisis continues, basic prevention steps—wearing a mask, physical distancing and avoiding crowds, and hand hygiene—are as important now as ever.
“The public health message is that we are all in this together,” Dr. Fauci said. “What you want to be is a dead end for the virus. You don’t want to be a vehicle that the virus uses to spread to someone else.”
“I evolved over the years. I didn’t plan to be the director of a big infectious disease institute,“ he recalled. “BuI I was fascinated with the concept of biomedical research and developed an interest in broader global heatlh issues.”