Hundreds of people attended a webinar called “From COVID to Monkeypox: A Conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci” that was hosted by The USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism on October 4, 2022. Fauci, who is regarded as “the nation’s top infectious disease specialist” and Dan Diamond, a national health reporter who works for The Washington Post, held a conversation about the current state of the COVID pandemic, the emerging monkeypox threat, and takeaways about future infectious disease response.
Fauci, 81, became known as “the leading scientific voice of the government’s response,” during the coronavirus pandemic. However, it may be lesser known that the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the U.S. National Institutes of Health who will be retiring in December “had a massive impact on public health policy over four decades and seven presidents,” according to information provided by The USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.
On the topic of COVID-19, Fauci remarked that the end of it has not arrived. There have been multiple waves of it as new variants emerged during the pandemic. He also reminded that variants such as Delta and Omicron appeared. The omicron sublineage, BA.4.6 is creeping up. In other countries, BA.2.75.2 is more evident. However, the number of hospitalizations and requirements for intensive care have also diminished in the U.S.
“Right now, it’s all relative, so if you look at where we are now with the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, compared to several months ago, when we were averaging between 800 or 900,000 cases, and between three and four thousand deaths, we’re not at that point now. We’re at much, much lower,” Fauci told Diamond. “But again, relatively speaking, it’s less but it is still at a level that I have been very public about saying that I’m not comfortable with having three to 400 deaths per day.”
Fauci added that “we are entering into the winter months, where no matter what the respiratory disease is, there’s always a risk of an uptick in respiratory diseases.”
During the conversation, Fauci reminded how Americans can take another precaution.
“We now have available, an updated vaccine that is specifically geared to the predominant circulating variant, the BA.5, which is the reason why we’re encouraging people particularly as we’re now in the fall season to get that particular updated vaccine, which fortunately for us, is directed at the major circulating variant,” Fauci said.
When the conversation also included an analysis of the monkeypox virus that spread, Fauci weighed in after Diamond’s comment that “the CDC now says that it’s unlikely we will eliminate monkey pox here in the States.”
Fauci explained that although vaccines, antivirals, and tests were available,“monkeypox was the evolution of an infection in an environment that really was not anticipated.” He admitted that a more rapid deployment of these countermeasures could have been accomplished better.
Overall, when it comes to lessons learned about whatever could occur with fighting the next virus, Fauci admitted that improvements could be made in terms of response.
“I hope that gets translated into a better implementation when the next threat does occur,” Fauci said.
However, Fauci mentioned complexities that arise because of how situations with different diseases evolve as data and information changes. Although the CDC has a rapid response team consisting of the Epidemic Intelligence Service, they were unprepared for a global pandemic like the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So right now, they are putting together a team that could address the situation we would face that they likely were not as well prepared for. So hopefully, the relooking, the internal self-examination that the CDC is doing, will greatly improve their ability to respond to future challenges,” Fauci said.
Development of testing and a safe and effective vaccine were examples cited, when Fauci responded to a question about how to best highlight “public health wins,” when it comes to management of a public health challenge.
“One of the things that we’ve learned through this is that a public health win, the biggest win, had to do with the science that is part of the comprehensive approach to a public health challenge,” Fauci said.