“Vaccines have been the bright light of this extraordinary challenge that we’ve gone through,” said Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
In an address for the opening ceremony of the American Thoracic Society’s virtual international conference, Dr. Fauci emphasized the role of basic and clinical research and government support for science in helping turn the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A few weeks ago, I wrote an editorial in Science, because there was some misunderstanding about how and why we were able to go from a realization of a new pathogen in January of 2020, to getting doses of vaccines in the arms of individuals – a highly efficacious vaccine – 11 months later. Truly, an unprecedented accomplishment,” he said.
“But as I said in the editorial, the speed and efficiency with which these highly efficacious vaccines were developed, and their potential for saving millions of lives, are due to an extraordinary multidisciplinary effort, involving basic, preclinical, and clinical science that had been underway – out of the spotlight – for decades and decades before the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic, a fact that very few people really appreciate: namely, the importance of investment in biomedical research.”
The general addresses the troops
Perhaps no other audience is so well suited to receive Dr. Fauci’s speech as those who are currently attending (virtually) the ATS conference, including researchers who scrutinize the virus from every angle to describe its workings and identify its vulnerabilities, epidemiologists who study viral transmission and look for ways to thwart it, public health workers who fan out to communities across the country to push vaccine acceptance, and clinicians who specialize in critical care and pulmonary medicine, many of whom staff the respiratory floors and intensive care units where the most severely ill patients are treated.
Speaking about the lessons learned and challenges remaining from the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Fauci briefly reviewed the epidemiology, virology and transmission, diagnostics, and clinical course of SARS-CoV-2 infections and the therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19.
The pandemic began in December 2019 with recognition of a novel type of pneumonia in the Wuhan District of Central China, Dr. Fauci noted.
“Very quickly thereafter, in the first week of January 2020, the Chinese identified a new strain of coronavirus as [the] source of the outbreak. Fast forward to where we are right now: We have experienced and are experiencing the most devastating pandemic of a respiratory illness in the last 102 years, with already approximately 160 million individuals having been infected – and this is clearly a gross undercounting – and also 3.3 million deaths, again, very likely an undercounting,” he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of May 9, 2021, there were approximately 32.5 million cases of COVID-19 and 578,520 deaths in the United States. Those cases and deaths occurred largely in three surges in the United States, in early spring, early summer, and late fall of 2020.