Public health measures still required after vaccinations, says Fauci

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Countries “can’t just completely turn off all public health measures” as more and more people are vaccinated against Covid-19, top US infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci has said.

Dr Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told an online event in Dublin that there was a need for caution because, while the curve of infections had turned down “very sharply”, it had “kind of plateaued” in the US over the past couple of weeks.

“I don’t think that should cause us to despair, but that it should cause us to be cautious as we continue to vaccinate more and more people, which will ultimately give us control of the outbreak. We have got to remember we can’t just completely turn off all public health measures,” he said.

Countries also needed to continue to be cautious because the virus had “surprised us continually with various surges over the past year to 14 months,” he said.

“However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, particularly now that we have vaccines that have been proven to be efficacious and safe,” he said.

This would be “a real game-changer” in tackling the pandemic, he added.

Dr Fauci was speaking at a Royal College of Physicians of Ireland virtual event after the 367-year-old professional body made him an honorary fellow.

The American public health specialist has become one of the public faces of the US response to the pandemic, publicly contradicting former US president Donald Trump at times last year before being backed by Mr Trump’s successor in the White House Joe Biden to help lead his administration’s health measures against the virus.

Dr Fauci been director of the NIAID since 1984 leading the fight against the HIV/Aids pandemic and leading responses of infections such as tuberculosis, Zika and Ebola.

In an online conversation with Prof Mary Horgan, president of the RCPI, Dr Fauci said that the situation concerning Covid-19 would “get better and better” with the rollout of vaccines and a reduction in infections but that it was “almost enlightened self-interest” to ensure that the virus was suppressed globally.

“If you suppress the outbreak in Ireland and we suppressed it in the United States and there is raging infection in lower- and middle-income countries, sooner or later a variant is going to come back to our country and obviate the effectiveness of the vaccines that we are using,” he said.

It would be to everyone’s advantage to ensure this is “truly a global response”, he added.

Asked about the lessons he has learned, Dr Fauci said that knowledge of the virus had gone from thinking initially that it was “something that would not be explosive to something that was devastatingly explosive” once it was identified that people could spread it without symptoms.

“You have to keep an open mind and you have to change your viewpoint, your recommendations and your guidelines based on the information you have at a given time,” he said, noting the importance of abiding by public health measures right now.

He urged doctors to “keep an open mind, go with the science and if you have to change, let data and evidence be your guiding posts for change”.

Dr Fauci warned that the pandemic – “besides killing so many people and maiming so many people” – would have “secondary spin-off effects” to be dealt with for “a very long time”.

He referred to the mental health impact on people and children as a result of “very patchy” in-person schooling, child abuse suffered as a result of people being confined at home and the economic devastation that is “irreversible” with many businesses being forced to close.

“It has been a very, very bad time for the world,” he said.

Dr Fauci’s interview with the RCPI will be available online at its channel on YouTube from 6.30pm on Tuesday.

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