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Covid won’t be a pandemic for “a lot longer” thanks to rapid progress in vaccine development, according to Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease official.
The coronavirus could nonetheless circulate for years, and people need to recommit to inexpensive public health measures like wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing as cases surge, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said at an event organized by Chatham House, a U.K. think tank.
Fauci spoke afterPfizer Inc. andBioNTech SE reported earlier this week that the vaccine they’re developing is more than 90% effective, according to preliminary results of a broad study. Findings from the trial of a similar shot, developed byModerna Inc., are expected soon.
“Certainly it’s not going to be a pandemic for a lot longer, because I believe the vaccines are going to turn that around,” Fauci said. “Vaccines will help us. What we’ve got to do is just hang on and continue to double down on the public health measures.”
A virus mutation detected in Danish mink raised for their fur probably won’t compromise vaccines that are in development, Fauci said. Last week, Denmark revealed it had found a variant of the virus that officials fear could be so disruptive that it justified ordering the extermination of the country’s mink population of 17 million animals.
Concerns were raised over the mutation because it occurred on the virus’s spike protein, which vaccines target.
Fauci said his conclusions were based on initial research by scientists in the U.S. While the mutation probably won’t compromise vaccines, it could create problems for treatments, such as monoclonal antibodies, he said.
Still, monoclonal antibody therapies, as well as antivirals, are increasingly in need of development so that people can get treated early on, thus sparing hospitals from getting overcrowded, Fauci said.
The public also needs to be prepared for the likelihood that protection against the virus — whether from vaccines or from fighting off Covid — will probably only last for a year, perhaps two, he said. That’s based on experience with similar viruses and the growing number of documented cases of people being infected with this coronavirus twice, he said.
While the virus is constantly mutating as it spreads, it’s unlikely to become more virulent or undermine the efficacy of vaccines — though again, such changes could lessen the impact of some therapies, he said.
Acknowledging that Covid fatigue has set in across much the world, Fauci urged people to stay resolved while awaiting the vaccines.
“Help is on the way, but it’s not here yet,” he said. “To me, that’s more of an incentive of ‘Please don’t give up. Don’t despair. The end is in sight.’”
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