MISSOULA – Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addressed the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic Feb. 17 in a conversation hosted by the University of Montana’s Mike and Maureen Mansfield Center.
Over 6,000 people tuned into the virtual event to hear from the world’s leading infectious disease expert about the vaccine rollout, impact of the COVID-19 virus and lessons learned through the pandemic.
Fauci took questions from the audience, including inquiries from Billy Miller of Helena and Riley Johnson of Pablo about the timeline for a “return to normal.”
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is because we have vaccines that are safe,” Fauci said. “When we get 70-85% of the population vaccinated, it will give us blanket protection. By next fall, we can begin to approach a significant degree of normality.”
Fauci was quick to raise awareness of one potential hurdle in the attempt to achieve herd immunity: variants of the virus that are developing across the world.
“The one wild card is the emergence of variants, but we are already working on vaccines that address these variants of the virus,” Fauci added.
Kaylee Kronsperger, a UM senior studying human biological sciences, asked Fauci how to encourage people who are skeptical of the vaccine to change their minds.
Fauci responded, “Be patient and help ensure that people know these vaccines have been shown to be effective in tens of thousands of people.”
Fielding a question from Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council Chairwoman Shelly Fyant about the federal government’s historical malpractice against Native Americans, Fauci acknowledged the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on Montana’s Native American population and he encouraged Native Americans to see out the vaccine right away.
When asked what advice and guidance he would give to UM students studying science and public health, Fauci made a pitch to follow in his footsteps towards public service.
“There is an extraordinary impact one can have at the government level,” he said. “There is no more gratifying feeling to know that your impact touches lives in different countries.”
While attending a watch party in the Mansfield Library, UM student Rachel Scuri was excited about how much detail Fauci covered during the hour-long event. “There was a lot I learned about the vaccine development process,” said the ecosystem science restoration and environmental chemistry major. “It is just shocking when Dr. Fauci said that vaccine development began just five days after the virus was discovered.”
Fauci is no stranger to western Montana, which is home to the NIAD’s Rocky Mountain Labs and UM’s Center for Translational Medicine, which was awarded a $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to identify and advance COVID-19 vaccines.
Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659, email@example.com