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Dr. Anthony Fauci is waiting for COVID-19 to be “essentially crushed” before returning to his longtime work studying infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, he said in an interview with McClatchy on Friday.
“It ain’t over till it’s over,” Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said. “I’m not going to be taking my attention off COVID-19 until we have it essentially crushed – namely, we’re not worried about it at all as a public health threat. When that happens, I will go back and refocus my attention on HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, and all the other things my institute does.”
Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, “I believe, with all due modesty, we’ve done incredible things with regard to HIV, with regard to flu and now with regard to COVID-19 by being the main movers in the development of a vaccine.”
He announced this week the investment of $3.2 billion in a new COVID-19 Antiviral Development Strategy, a whole-of-government effort aimed at developing next-generation treatments for COVID-19 as well as other, future threats.
It was a sign of his focus on the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic, ensuring that the virus is continually monitored for mutations that could disrupt or reverse progress.
Fauci is closely watching a new variant first identified in India, known as “Delta,” which he said was concerning for the millions of Americans who are not yet fully vaccinated.
“If you’re vaccinated, you don’t need to worry so much, because the predominant vaccine in this country – the mRNAs – protect very well against it,” Fauci said. “It’s likely J&J does the same thing though we don’t have formal proof of that.”
“My concern is for the people who are not getting vaccinated,” he continued. “Because when you have the circulation of a variant that’s more transmissible – and recently a Scottish study shows is more pathogenic and causes more severe disease – then I worry about people who are not vaccinated, because then they’re really at risk from this really troublesome variant.”
Scientists are running clinical trials to test whether booster shots should target specific variants, or whether they should target the original strain of the coronavirus that emerged from Wuhan, as the original vaccines did.
Fauci suggested that boosting against the original virus strain, known as the “wild type,” might ultimately be the best strategy to pursue, because the vaccines have proven effective against every variant of concern identified so far.
“You’ve got to ask yourself the question, what is going to be the strategy for the future? Should we be boosting, if we have to boost, against the original one, which has already shown to be really, really good at spilling over protection against the variants? Or should we be making variant-specific boosts?”
“To be honest with you, I’m not really sure we’re going to need that,” he said, regarding booster shots that would target specific mutations. “It may be that just increasing the level of protection against the original virus will give you enough cross-protection against most variants.”