The 2 Big Things That May Bring This Pandemic to Its Knees, According to Dr. Fauci
Here’s a nice update on our pandemic trajectory from Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: “Things are going in the right direction,” Dr. Fauci told NPR on November 5. Cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have declined in recent weeks. That’s welcome news as we approach two years under the thumb of an illness that has killed more than 750,000 Americans, disrupted schools and workplaces, and overwhelmed the country’s hospitals.
But unfortunately, we’re not out of the woods yet. “The steepness of the deflection is not as good as it was, let’s say, a month or so ago,” he explained. In previous weeks, we saw drops in new cases of “10, 15, 20%,” Fauci said. But there was only a drop of 1.4% the week leading up to November 3, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
That makes experts worried that the cases could start to rise again, as indoor gathering and cold weather are big transmission risks for respiratory illness. So what can we do?
There are two main curbs that can help with the pandemic, according to Dr. Fauci. The first: Get vaccinated if you haven’t already. “We can get through this if we really put a lot of effort into getting as many people vaccinated as we possibly can,” Dr. Fauci told NPR.
The Pfizer vaccine has just been authorized by the FDA for some 28 million children ages 5 to 11. Meanwhile, just 58.5% of adolescents and adults ages 12 and up have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
“We have adolescents who we’ve already started some months ago to vaccinate, but we need to do better with them,” Dr. Fauci said. But it’s not just young people who are lagging behind. “We have about 60-plus million people in the country who are eligible for vaccinations who have not yet been vaccinated,” he said.
The second important factor in curbing the pandemic could be better treatment options for people who do get sick with the coronavirus. One promising option is an anti-COVID pill from Pfizer called Paxlovid.
“It is a pill that is given early—within five days but preferably within three days—of the onset of symptoms,” Dr. Fauci explained. “And what it did is that it diminished by 89% the likelihood that you would have a hospitalization in the placebo versus the drug group and by about 85% if you started within five days.”
“It is really quite promising,” Dr. Fauci said.
Merck has also produced an anti-COVID pill, molnupiravir, which the company says halved the risk of hospitalizations and deaths for people with underlying health conditions.
The Food and Drug Administration is set to discuss an emergency use authorization for Merck’s pill on November 30. A date hasn’t yet been set for Pfizer’s pill, though one of the company’s U.K. representatives told British media the drug could be available in early 2022.
But even if this medicine is approved and ends up being an excellent treatment, it won’t replace the need for vaccination. “It is always, always better not to get infected than to get infected,” Dr. Fauci says. “It is always, always better to prevent it than to have to worry about treating it.”
When it comes down to it, the goal with the pandemic is for us to have “a level of control” that means this virus “doesn’t disrupt society the way the COVID-19 outbreak is currently doing with us,” Dr. Fauci said.
The main measures for success here haven’t changed. “You want to get deaths and hospitalization as low as you possibly can. You get there by getting the cases lower,” Dr. Fauci explained.
And, ultimately, the best way to do that is to get more people vaccinated.
“We know vaccination—even when it doesn’t always prevent infection, it goes a long way to preventing the progression to severe disease,” Dr. Fauci said.
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