Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, hasn't offered a surplus of good news lately. The coronavirus pandemic remains mysterious, widespread and lethal—although research on a vaccine is well underway—and the prospect of colder weather, and flu season, has health officials worried about a double-dip catastrophe. But in an interview Thursday with WTOP, Fauci said one region of the world almost skipped its recent flu season altogether by doing a few specific things, and he refereed a perceived dispute between President Trump and CDC director Robert Redfield on COVID vaccine timing. Read on to find out why he's hopeful and what you need to do. And to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
We Might Be Able to Avoid a Flu Season Entirely—if You Mask Up and Social Distance
Fauci said that public-health colleagues in the Southern Hemisphere found their most recent winter (which runs April to September and is ending now) was one of the mildest flu seasons in recent memory. "They almost, as they call it, had an absent flu season," he said.
Why? "They're not sure why this is the case, but the evidence strongly suggests that all the precautions that they would take to avoid COVID during their winter—namely masks, physical separation, avoiding crowds, washing hands very well—may have averted a flu season."
The Worst-Case Scenario May Not Happen
"That's something that we're not going to take for granted here," said Fauci. "We still should be getting our flu shots, for sure, the way we always do, but it is entirely possible that despite the fear that we were going to have a double whammy—namely flu season superimposed upon a continuation of COVID-19—that may not be the case."
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But That's Not Guaranteed
"I don't want people to get complacent about that," said Fauci. "We still should be getting flu vaccines and doing all the things we've spoken about, about the health approaches, namely with the masks and distancing and avoiding crowds."
Seriously, Get That Flu Shot
Fauci said that the seasonal flu vaccine is "obviously very important. There's no question about it. If you look at the data over many years about flu vaccines, they're not perfect. But we know from the data that flu shots not only prevent infection, they prevent people who do get infected from getting serious progressive disease sometimes resulting in hospitalization."
On The COVID Vaccine Timing
This week, news reports pointed out that Fauci and CDC director Robert Redfield have expressed a different view on vaccine timing than President Trump. Redfield told a Senate hearing that a vaccine would be widely available in the middle of next year; Trump has said next month or November. "I don't think it really is a substantial disagreement regarding the president and the director of the CDC," said Fauci.
How That's Possible
The difference is when a vaccine is made available and when doses "will, in practicality, be fully administered to everybody in the country," said Fauci. "What the president was saying is that it is entirely conceivable that we will have an answer by October. My projection is that it would likely be November or December. We don't know. We're just going to have to wait and see the trials."
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When You Might Be Able to Get Vaccinated
"Once it becomes clear that a vaccine is safe and effective, the doses that would be administered are already being manufactured," said Fauci. "So we could hit the ground running."
If a vaccine is approved in November, starting in December, high-risk individuals and health care workers could be vaccinated from December into January or February. "What about getting everybody vaccinated so we are able to act in the sense of going back to some degree of normality?" said Fauci. "That very likely would be in the first half to the third quarter of 2021.
Of Trump and Redfield, he said, "So I think in many respects, they were both right."
How to Stay Healthy
As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.