This week, Anthony Fauci, M.D., shared his big-picture perspective on where we are in the fight against COVID-19—as well as where we’re heading next. Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases said in a White House press briefing on Wednesday that much of the world, including the U.S. “in some respects,” is still in the pandemic phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, and total elimination of the virus is unrealistic right now. But he has no doubt “it is within our power and within our capability” to achieve stable control of the virus in the near future.
As for where we’re going, a world with no COVID-19 at all is an unlikely endpoint, Dr. Fauci conceded. Historically, we have been able to virtually eradicate some diseases, such as polio and measles here in the U.S., and smallpox worldwide. But in the case of COVID-19, “It is going to be very difficult—at least in the foreseeable future and maybe ever—to truly eliminate this highly transmissible virus,” Dr. Fauci said.
Instead, a more meaningful goal is achieving and maintaining tight and stable control of the virus, where “there’s a low level of infection that doesn’t disrupt society in any meaningful way,” Dr. Fauci explained. “We’re looking for a level of control of the virus that would allow us to be able to essentially approach the kind of normal that we are all craving for and that we all talk about.”
While the U.S. has made progress, we’ve never actually gotten to the point of stability required to return to normalcy. Every surge in COVID-19 infections has passed only to be followed by another one. “We always went to a peak, the acceleration diminished, and we turned the corner and we came back down, but we never got to control,” Dr. Fauci explained.
While recent downward trends in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths indicate the U.S. is turning a corner on the most recent surge, we’re not approaching that point of stable control yet. “There is a point where you get a decline in the acceleration and a turnaround of cases…that’s where we are,” Dr. Fauci said. But as it remains, the U.S. is still seeing tens of thousands of cases a day.
“We have got to do better than that,” Dr. Fauci added. “We need to get that curve to go much further down than it is, because we’re dealing with a situation where you have a highly transmissible virus and where the dynamics of the virus are at 80 to 90,000 cases a day,” he explained. “That’s not where you want to be.”
The good news is that the level of containment of the virus we’re seeking is in sight, according to Dr. Fauci. “We can get to control. Without a doubt, it is within our power and within our capability.” He ended on a note he and other experts have emphasized over and over: the paramount importance of vaccination in helping us get to that place of normalcy.
Though evidence shows that the real-world protection of the COVID-19 vaccines against infection, hospitalization, and death is high, approximately 66 million people who are eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 are still unvaccinated, Dr. Fauci pointed out. With vaccine mandates going into effect at more companies and institutions—and vaccinations for children under 12 on the horizon—there are reasons to be hopeful about vaccination rates going up soon.
But as it currently stands, “Particularly among the younger groups, we have a long way to go,” he said. “Protect yourself and those around you,” Dr. Fauci urged. “Vaccination is the answer to getting us to control.”
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