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Fauci: We've got to be careful we don't get complacent

Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani talks with Dr. Fauci about the recent surge in omicron cases within the U.S.

Video Transcript

KARINAN MITCHELL: Believe it or not, we are at the doorstep of the second anniversary of the first confirmed COVID case here in the US, which, if you remember, happened to be in Washington state. Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani sat down with Dr. Anthony Fauci recently as we enter the third year of the pandemic. Anjalee.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: That's right, Katrina. Unfortunately, we are entering that third year. And that's something that Dr. Anthony Fauci admitted he was kind of surprised about and not expecting that we would be where we are now, considering we have the tools available here in the US, namely vaccines, to help really curb the trajectory of the pandemic.

But we also talked about a couple of other things. One being specifically the amount of misinformation and the hate that has come his way and how he's really handled all that in the past two years. Listen to what he had to say.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, right now, we've seen a disparate surging in this country. We've seen it surge in the big cities, like New York and Chicago, Los Angeles, places like that. And even in New York, it's already peaked and start coming down. The areas in the South that have not yet been hit as badly likely will see a gradual increase and will reach their peak later than the peaks that we're seeing in the big cities like New York.

So I think, ultimately, it's going to spread throughout the entire country for the simple reason it's a very, very transmissible virus. Hopefully, the impact will not be as severe as we've seen with Delta. But remember, one of the reasons why we can't be complacent about the concept that it is inherently less severe is that the sheer volume of numbers of people that are getting infected with Omicron because of its high degree of transmissibility might supersede and obviate the lesser degree of severity.

So let me give you an example. If a virus infects 50 people and 10% of them a severe, that's five severe people. But if another virus infects 500 people and is only 1% severe, even though, it's 10 times less severe than the other virus, you still have a lot more people severely involved. So we've got to be careful that we don't get complacent about a virus that inherently is less severe but quantitatively, gives you so many more infections.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Absolutely. Moving on to one thing that I know you've been really big on. Since sort of the start of the pandemic, which is equity and access, when it came to vaccinations, I know that was something that was thought about within the White House response team. But now, we're looking at a number of things. And I know it's a couple of disparate things, but let's get to them.

One is the masking. There's different sort of ideas around whether or not we should be pushing for in N95s or KN95s, and what that means for access for individuals who may not be able to afford them. Meanwhile, we also know that while at-home request site launched today. There were some issues with people in apartment buildings, which we know affects those in vulnerable communities more, as well as the idea of reimbursement for at-home tests being printed or faxed based on the insurers, also another access issue.

And then no phone line for those at-home tests. So it just seems like despite a lot of progress in getting these things to the American people, there are still some barriers left. Have you have you talked about this within the White House response team or just generally and how to overcome them?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, obviously, there has been a major improvement with what you're seeing getting launched tomorrow, namely the January 19th, beginning of the distribution of half a billion tests free followed soon thereafter with another half a billion for a total of a billion tests. So there's also going to be about 20,000 testing centers. There's the online issue that you created. So things are going to get a lot better. It's never going to be perfect. Nothing is perfect when you're dealing with such a formidable challenge as we are right now. But a real attempt has been made to address the equity problem in every aspect of this pandemic.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Dr. Fauci, a final question for you. We know we've seen you're personally attacked throughout the pandemic both by congressmen as well as really just the misinformation army that's out there. I just wonder how you've been able to handle it all and really how it's affected the response and your day to day.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, I'm fine, first of all. And the way you get through those kinds of ad hominem attacks and distractions is you focus on what your main purpose and what your responsibility is. And for the last 40 years or so, my responsibility as a scientist, a physician, and a public health person is to do whatever I can through the institute that I direct to do safety and health of the American public. And indirectly, when you do that, it's for the rest of the world because we're leaders in that regard.

So I focus like a laser beam on what my purpose is-- the health of the American public. All the slings and arrows and ad hominems, they are certainly not comfortable, but they also are not getting in the way of my job.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: So as you can hear, a lot to deal with there. And specifically, on the point of what the trajectory of this pandemic currently is, I did get a chance to ask him about the conversation. I know we've been hearing a lot in the finance world about the pandemic becoming endemic. And he really said that there is that possibility if vaccinations go well throughout the world for the rest of the year. But there is always that worst case scenario still sort of hanging out in the background, which is we could see a variant of concern pop up that completely eludes any kind of protection. So definitely, a lot to still, unfortunately, keep waiting and watching on. Back to you.

KARINAN MITCHELL: It's something we definitely don't want to see, Anjalee. That was great reporting. I have to say, because you touched on on the interview, I logged on yesterday for my free at-home test. It took me 60 seconds put my information in. And hopefully, they show up. It was really easy to do. All right, we will leave it there. Anjalee Khemlani, thank you so much.