NEW YORK, NY (CBS Newspath) – This week marks one year since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic. CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook sat down with Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, to discuss where we’ve been and where we are headed.
Dr. LaPook: “In 2016, when I interviewed you for 60 Minutes, I said, what keeps you up at night? And you described this year.”
Dr. Fauci: “My worst-case scenario is to have a combination of factors that would lead to a historic pandemic. And unfortunately, for us and the world, that’s exactly what happened.”
Dr. Fauci says one year ago, he wishes we had known just how capable the novel coronavirus was of spreading so easily.
Dr. Fauci: “That is really a game changer for an outbreak. It would be so unusual to have a respiratory disease of this magnitude in which such a large percentage is driven by people who have no symptoms.”
Nearly 30 million have been infected in the U.S. More than 500,000 have died. And while we now have several vaccines that are extremely effective, the virus is changing with the variant that originated in the UK, 117, spreading rapidly.
Dr. LaPook: “We have the appearance of all of these variants of concern.”
Dr. Fauci: “It’s kind of a bit of a race of getting as many people vaccinated as you possibly can with these variants which are assuming dominance. The news that’s somewhat encouraging is that the vaccines that are being distributed currently in the United States, particularly the MRNA vaccines, do pretty well against that 117.”
Dr. Fauci says the best way to stop variants from developing is to stop the virus from spreading, and he’s worried about relaxing restrictions prematurely.
Dr. LaPook: “You look at a state like Texas that has opened it up for all intents and purposes. When you see that, what’s your reaction?”
Dr. Fauci: “It’s dismay. It’s ill advised. What you really want to do is get the baseline very far down and then gradually pull back on the public health measures. But to just turn it on like a light switch and turn it off like a light switch is very risky.”
Dr. LaPook: “Looking ahead, what do you see the big challenges are?”
Dr. Fauci: “You really want to get the overwhelming majority of people vaccinated, not only for their own health and their own safety, that of their families, but the fact that they will then be contributing to this overall effect of what we refer to as herd immunity.
Dr. Fauci says the public must avoid being lulled into a false sense of security.
Dr. Fauci: “We want to make sure we don’t generate another surge, which is the reason why it’s no time now to pull back on some of the public health measures.”
Lessons learned this past year that will follow us into the future.
Dr. LaPook: “There will be another pandemic. Right?”
Dr. Fauci: “There’s no doubt about it, can’t say when or where or how, but if history tells us the truth, which it does all the time, this will happen again.”