The country’s top infectious disease expert urged Americans to set aside politics and form a unified front in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic as news of successful vaccine trials indicates the ordeal that has shaped 2020 might soon come to an end.
“We’ve got to do everything we possibly can to pull together as a nation and not as individual factions having differences that spill over into public health. Public health is something that has really nothing to do with politics. I mean, it’s just a reality of what infectious diseases are,” White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said during Tuesday’s DealBook Online Summit presented by The New York Times.
Nearly every aspect of the pandemic — from face coverings in public to drugs used in treating symptoms — has been politicized as the nation has been held in the grips of the worst public health crisis in more than a century.
Fauci, who has advised six presidents since he was appointed director of the National Institution of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in 1984, and said he preferred to remain “an apolitical public health person.”
Despite overwhelming scientific evidence of the dangers of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, many people have become lax in following public health recommendations like wearing a face mask and frequent hand washing.
Fauci credits such “COVID fatigue” with recent spikes in cases at home and abroad.
“Take a look at the data. We have 245,000 deaths, and 11 million infections,” Fauci said. “You have a personal and a societal responsibility to protect yourself and those around you. We’ve got to get that message from every single person involved in it, and we got to keep hammering it home.”
Nacogdoches lung specialist Dr. Ahammed Hasim has been hammering home the message since the start of the pandemic. He and his wife, Dr. Binusha Moitheennazima are among the physicians treating the patients sickest with COVID-19.
“It’s exciting news because the vaccines look very promising, actually they look great, but we’re still several months away from that, so we need to keep COVID-19 under control until then. Masks work and social distancing works and we don’t need to relax those things that we know work in anticipation of the vaccine,” Hashim said. “Actually we need to work even harder to control this disease while we wait for the vaccine.”
Nacogdoches County saw an uptick over the weekend in new infections, and Texas is in the midst of a boom of new cases and hospitalizations .
“We’re seeing the numbers of coronavirus cases increasing, not decreasing as we would have hoped. Now is the time to be even more careful, not the time to relax, especially in our vulnerable populations,” Hashim said. “We don’t want to lose even one life we don’t have to lose when we’re this close to having a vaccine.”
Complicating health officials’ ability to get the coronavirus under control is that around 40% of people infected with the virus will show no symptoms. Of those who do become ill, around 80% can be treated at home.
“But there is a segment of our society which is a significant group of vulnerable people that when they get infected they have a high degree of risk of getting into trouble. That’s disproportionately represented in minority populations, but it’s the elderly and those with underlying conditions,” Fauci said.
Risk factors for serious illness from the virus include obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Last week, Pfizer announced that it had developed a vaccine that appeared to be more than 90% effective. Moderna on Tuesday said its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective. Both companies are now on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the U.S.
Both vaccines require two shots, given several weeks apart. U.S. officials said they hope to have about 20 million Moderna doses and another 20 million of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech to use in late December.
At least three more vaccines are in the works from other American drugmakers.
A vaccine can’t come fast enough, as virus cases topped 11 million in the U.S. over the weekend — 1 million of them recorded in just the past week — and governors and mayors are ratcheting up restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving. The outbreak has killed more than 1.3 million people worldwide, over 246,000 of them in the U.S.
Stocks rallied on Wall Street and around the world on rising hopes that the global economy could start returning to normal in the coming months. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained more than 470 points, or 1.6%, to close at a record high of over 29,950. Moderna stock was up almost 10%.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.