By Noah Smith, RightsViews staff writer and a graduate student in the human rights MA program
On December 10, the Dean’s Grand Rounds on the Future of Public Health had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Anthony Fauci to discuss the year of COVID-19 and the future of public health. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown a sobering light on unequivocally broken, systematically racist and unequal health systems which have done little to support communities of color, the vulnerable and the elderly. It has also starkly illuminated our nation’s absence of a public health system charged with protecting the health of all citizens. The Dean’s Grands Rounds sought to examine these challenges as well as deepen our understanding, research, teaching and action on this topic, through examining the year that changed everything and the very future of public health.
The Dean of the Mailman School of Public Health, Dr. Linda Fried, moderated the event and asked Dr. Fauci predetermined questions sent in by students as well as faculty. Dr. Fauci commenced his presentation by discussing both the public health as well as the scientific challenges associated with this unprecedented pandemic. He discussed the nature of coronavirus by highlighting a paper he co-wrote in January of this year titled “Coronavirus Infections—More Than Just the Common Cold.”In this paper Dr. Fauci points out that we have had experiences with coronaviruses for decades now and presented a coronavirus phylogenetic tree in humans. It was not until 2002 and 2012 when we were confronted with the unusual experience of two coronaviruses that had potential pandemic effects. These were Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). SARS was assuaged by a lack of transmissibility from human to human and effective public health protocols and MERS still exists to this day, but does not pose a significant threat.
Dr. Fauci then discussed the current pandemic, articulating that COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. He articulated that this disease is the most impactful respiratory pandemic, due to its high transmission rate and a national lack of adherence to safety protocols, since the 1918 Spanish Flu . As we examine the cases as they evolved over the past six months, it becomes starkly evident that Covid-19 has become an unmitigated disaster, affecting the entire country almost equally, with the U.S. leading the globe in both infections and deaths.
With the promise of a vaccine on the near horizon, Dr. Fauci discussed a troubling article from Science which found that just 50% of Americans plan to get the vaccine. The statistics for minority populations was far more dire with only 37% of Latine and 25% of African American respondents stating they would take the vaccine. In order to subdue COVID-19 we need to vaccinate a much higher proportion of the population than expressed an interest in getting the vaccine. Therefore, convincing people of the transparency and safety of a vaccine is a public health necessity. Dr. Fauci spoke of the transparency with which these vaccines have been developed, stating that he personally advocated for the inclusion of marginalized communities in the clinical trials. Articulating that Moderna’s clinical trials were composed of 10% African American and 20% Latine participants.
As the event drew to an end, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Fried turned their attention to the current socio-political climate as well as the necessary public health response to the pandemic. Dr. Fauci spoke of the imperative necessity with which we need depoliticize scientific discourse, stating that “ when you are dealing with a public health issue there should be no such a thing as politics because it is a uniform effort that involves everyone regardless of your political ideology.’’ In his final remarks, Dr. Fauci articulated that a vaccine is on the very near horizon and through adhering to public safety protocol we can crush this pandemic, however the only way we can do this is if we do it all together, with as many people as possible getting vaccinated and through continued adherence to public safety guidelines.
The Year of Covid-19 with Dr. Anthony Fauci (Event Recording)
Cover photo credit to National Institutes of Health // Creative Commons