Politics

Almost 2 years later, Anthony Fauci didn't think COVID-19 pandemic would have lasted this long

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, says he's surprised the pandemic has lasted so long.

Leader of U.S. pandemic response says much remains unknown about omicron

Fauci on whether vaccine mandates could include boosters

8 months ago
Duration 8:08
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. pandemic response, speaks with Rosemary Barton on the pandemic, coronavirus variants and booster shots.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says it's "unprecedented" how long the COVID-19 pandemic has lasted globally, with many countries enduring multiple major waves of infections since it was declared in March 2020.

Speaking in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live airing Sunday on CBC News Network, Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, said pandemics are generally characterized by one "big burst" of infection and then decline.

"No, I did not think it would last this long," he told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.

"We're [seeing] multiple countries, including the U.S.A., have at least three or four surges or waves of infection. That's really unprecedented when it comes to pandemics."

Concerns are once more rising around the world as cases surge in several countries and researchers attempt to determine whether a new variant, omicron, is more transmissible than those already present globally.

Fauci, shown with then-U.S. president Donald Trump, right, is now the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden. He says the U.S. is 'in a period of very, very intense political divisiveness,' which has led to vaccine hesitancy. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Canada is seeing its own rise in daily new cases, with most of the growth coming in Ontario and Quebec.

Fauci said the United States is also still facing an "unacceptably high level" of infections, with the seven-day rolling average of new cases there standing at more than 120,000.

Still little known about omicron

The prominent doctor, who has long been one of the faces of the U.S. pandemic response, said people should still be cautious about coming to conclusions about the nature of omicron, the newest coronavirus variant causing concern around the world.

Fauci said there was preliminary evidence that while COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective against the variant, it may cause less severe disease than delta, the variant currently dominant in Canada and globally.

WATCH | Dr. Theresa Tam discusses new omicron variant: 

Data on severity of omicron variant still preliminary, but Dr. Tam urges caution

8 months ago
Duration 1:20
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Teresa Tam says the data on the severity of the omicron variant is still premature but that Canadians should still exercise caution.

In the future, he said, it's "possible" that vaccine mandates could be extended to include booster doses, which have been shown in recent data to provide additional protection against the omicron variant.

In order to protect against future variants, Fauci said, more effort needs to be put into the global vaccination campaign.

"What we are hoping is [to] get more and more people vaccinated — not only in our own countries, namely in Canada and the United States, but also throughout the world — because as long as you have raging transmission of infection in any region of the world, that serves as the incubator to get more variants," he said.

Canada has promised to donate the equivalent of 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing initiative, while the U.S. has pledged more than a billion doses.

'Divisiveness' affected vaccination effort: Fauci

Fauci also discussed the ongoing vaccination effort in the U.S., where just over 60 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated — a rate that's rising slowly. More than 80 per cent of the eligible Canadian population is vaccinated.

"I think it's just the nature of the culture of the population that we are in the United States in a period of very, very intense political divisiveness. And many of the people who are hesitant to get vaccinated are doing it really on ideological grounds, which as a public health person doesn't make any sense at all," he said Sunday.

His own position as a leader of the pandemic response has long been politicized, as well as the wider vaccination effort. Fauci, who advised former president Donald Trump and now Biden, has been harshly criticized by the former as a "disaster."

"To me ... when you're dealing with the common enemy of a virus and you have a highly effective tool to protect you, [but] because you are in a particular political ideology, you decide you don't want to get vaccinated, I just think that's really unfortunate," Fauci said.

He noted that Canada should have an easier time dealing with the pandemic because of its higher vaccination rate.

You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC's streaming service.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christian Paas-Lang covers federal politics for CBC News in Ottawa as an associate producer with The House and a digital writer with CBC Politics. You can reach him at christian.paas-lang@cbc.ca.

With files from Arielle Piat-Sauvé and Rosemary Barton

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