Describing COVID-19 as his “worst nightmare” come to life, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Tuesday that a lot is still unknown about the coronavirus and warned the ongoing pandemic is far from over.
“Oh my goodness. Where is it going to end? We’re still at the beginning of really understanding,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said of the pandemic during a virtual conference held by BIO, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, The New York Times reported.
In a span of just four months, the virus “has devastated the whole world,” he said. “And it isn’t over yet.”
Though Fauci said he’d known a major viral outbreak of this kind could happen, he said he was surprised by “how rapidly” the coronavirus “just took over the planet” ― fueled by the virus’s transmissibility and global travel by people infected with the disease.
“It’s a testimony to not only the extraordinary capability of transmission but of the extraordinary travel capability we have,” he said, per CNBC.
More than 7.2 million people in 188 countries and territories have contracted COVID-19 to date, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. More than 400,000 people have died. The virus is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, late last year.
Medical experts including Fauci have said the pandemic will likely only be stymied once effective vaccines are developed and widely distributed.
Fauci said he was hopeful “multiple” successful vaccines would be created and praised the pharmaceutical industry for stepping “up to the plate” and reacting rapidly to the crisis.
Multiple COVID-19 vaccines are already being tested on people and at least one, developed by biotech company Moderna with the support of the National Institutes of Health, is expected to be tested on about 30,000 participants when it launches its next phase of testing in July.
The pharmaceutical industry “has been stellar in this and that they’ve done it so rapidly, in fact, even outpaced the public health response, in some respect,” Fauci said of the vaccine development race.
Fauci said in May that he thought it was “in the realm of possibility” that a COVID-19 vaccine could be ready by January 2021.
In contrast, the mumps vaccine, which is considered the fastest vaccine ever to be approved, took four years to develop.
“The industry is not stupid. They figured it out,” Fauci said Tuesday. “There’s going to be more than one winner in the vaccine field because we’re going to need vaccines for the entire world … So I’m almost certain that we’re going to have multiple candidates that make it to the goal line get approved and get widely used.”
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