BOSTON (State House News Service) — Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday he's "cautiously optimistic" that efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine will be successful, and projected that more answers will be available in a matter of months.
"My projection -- which is only a projection -- is that somewhere towards the end of the year, the beginning of 2021, we will know whether we have a safe and effective vaccine," Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a forum hosted by Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
In conversation with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Fauci also said his family has received threats from people who object to his public statements, and that the coronavirus pandemic will "smolder" unless everyone works together to suppress it.
Fauci said that the United States has suffered "as much or worse than anyone" during the course of the pandemic, and Gupta raised the point that the country represents less than 5 percent of the world's population but accounts for 20 percent to 25 percent of both COVID-19 infections and deaths across the globe.
"That has to be the worst. Is it not the worst?" Gupta asked.
"It is," Fauci replied. "Quantitatively, if you look at it, it is. The numbers don't lie."
Fauci has laid out a series of principles for people to follow to manage spread of the contagious coronavirus, including wearing masks, keeping physical distance, avoiding crowds and indoor bars, choosing outdoor activities over indoor ones when possible, and practicing good hand hygiene.
Acknowledging "a degree of anti-science feeling in this country," Fauci said some people don't believe him or don't pay attention when he says that following those principles will allow for the country to reopen its economy.
"That's unfortunate because that is the way out of this," he said. "We can continue to go towards normality without doing the drastic thing of shutting down, if we follow some fundamental principles."
Fauci, who has become a mainstay in the media over the past several months, said his family has received death threats and his adult daughters have been harassed, "to the point where I have to get security."
"I wouldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams that people who object to things that are pure public health principles are so set against it and don't like what you and I say, namely in the word of science, that they actually threaten you," he told Gupta. "I mean, that to me is just strange."
Fauci said he believes some of the apparent mistrust in science comes from a "mistrust in authority" and a desire to push back against government, as scientists who are presenting data are viewed as authority figures.
"Unfortunately, that's not what scientists are," he said. "And I think we need to be more transparent in reaching out to people and engaging society in understanding why science and evidence-based policy is so important."
Fauci said one of his daughters was on her college crew team and drew a parallel between that sport and the fight to contain COVID-19 in the United States, saying everyone in the country needs to be rowing in the same direction.
"So long as you have any member of society, any demographic group, who's not seriously trying to get to the end game of suppressing this, it will continue to smolder and smolder and smolder," Fauci said.
Gupta wrapped up the discussion by asking Fauci if he plans to be in the same job the next time a pandemic hits.
Fauci said he hoped he'll be "long gone" before that happens and that Gupta "will be fishing somewhere, enjoying retirement, or maybe up with the spirits of your ancestors."
"I will stay in this job, Sanjay, as long -- and I'm pretty honest with myself and I've got a really honest wife -- as long as I'm on my top form, and when I stop being top form, I'll be gone," he said.
By Katie Lannan, State House News Service
(Photo: Getty Images)