National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr.Anthony Fauci attends a coronavirus response meeting between US President Donald Trump and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington,US,April 29,2020.
Anthony Fauci has become the scientific face of America’s COVID-19 response,and he says the best evidence shows the virus behind the pandemic was not made in a lab in China.
Fauci,the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,shot down the discussion that has been raging among politicians and pundits,calling it“a circular argument”in a conversation Monday with National Geographic.
“If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what's out there now,[the scientific evidence]is very,very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated…Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that[this virus]evolved in nature and then jumped species,”Fauci says.Based on the scientific evidence,he also doesn’t entertain an alternate theory—that someone found the coronavirus in the wild,brought it to a lab,and then it accidentally escaped.
Fauci is most concerned that the United States will be put to the test this fall and winter by a second wave of COVID-19 if the country does not blunt the infection rate by the summer.
“Shame on us if we don't have enough tests by the time this so-called return might occur in the fall and winter,”he says,advising that the US needs to make sure we not only have an adequate supply of tests available before a second wave hits,but also a system for getting those tests to the people who most need them.
“I don't think there's a chance that this virus is just going to disappear,”he says.“It's going to be around,and if given the opportunity,it will resurge.”As such,Fauci says the US should also focus this summer on properly reinforcing the nation’s health care system,ensuring the availability of hospital beds,ventilators,and personal protective equipment for health care workers.
He also stressed the importance of continuing to social distance everywhere until the case counts start to fall in cities and states.The US witnessed about 20,000 to 30,000 new cases every day in the month of April,suggesting the country is stuck in its peak.
Still,he remains optimistic that a vaccine will be ready within an historically short time frame,citing one promising candidate that he thinks may move into advanced clinical trials by the early summer.Fauci has said that he thinks a final vaccine could be available for general use as early as January,which would break records for the speed at which previous vaccines were developed.
One reason for his confidence is the“impressive”results being seen now in animals tested with a vaccine candidate made by Cambridge,Massachusetts-based Moderna Therapeutics,which brought it into human trials in a record 42 days.The candidate is what is known as an mRNA vaccine—a drug that uses snippets of a virus’s genetic material—rather than the dead or weakened virus itself—to build the proteins that trigger the body’s protective immune response.
To date,no type of mRNA vaccine has been licensed for use in humans,but Fauci believes there is great promise for this technology targeting the coronavirus,based in part on his experience developing treatments for HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and‘90s.
“For some reason that we're still struggling with,the body does not make an adequate immune response to HIV,”he says.To fight off that virus,a vaccine has to work better than the body’s own natural response.By contrast,“it's obvious that many people make a very adequate immune response”to the SARS-CoV-2 virus,and the animal trials so far show that modest doses of the mRNA vaccine for coronavirus have also generated a strong immune response.
He adds that NIAID is still developing and supporting multiple vaccine efforts,in case those that go into trials soonest don’t ultimately prove safe and effective.“You want a lot of shots on goal.We want four or five candidates that we put out there all within a reasonable time,”he says.
Fauci told National Geographic he’s concerned about states rushing to reopen before their infection rates fall.He also shared how he manages the barrage of new scientific information being released about COVID-19,and how his family and faith keep him going despite his increasingly hectic schedule.