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Dr. Anthony Fauci joins W&M President Katherine A. Rowe for virtual conversation

  • A screenshot shows a Zoom call with three people in different boxes
    Community conversation:  W&M President Katherine A. Rowe (top row, left) and Student Assembly President Anthony “AJ” Joseph '21 (bottom row) spoke with Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci about, among other things, vaccines and the university’s role in helping dispel misinformation about public health matters related to the pandemic.  
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Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, discusses recent developments concerning the COVID-19 pandemic

William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe welcomed Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci for a virtual community conversation Thursday about recent developments concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rowe, as well as Student Assembly President Anthony “AJ” Joseph '21, spoke with Fauci about, among other things, vaccines and the university’s role in helping dispel misinformation about public health matters related to the pandemic.

Fauci’s response to the latter: Keep doing what you’re doing.

“You followed by example the public health measures of wearing masks, of keeping physical distance, of avoiding congregant settings,” said Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden. “The optimal ways of doing things are to continue to implement your public health measures and when a vaccine becomes available, go get vaccinated.”

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William & Mary reduced the impact of COVID-19 in the fall because of a resounding commitment from students, faculty and staff. The university’s Healthy Together Community Commitment continues to emphasize preventative measures such as mask wearing, physical distancing and hand washing, and the university continues to employ robust testing measures to help ensure a healthy environment.

William & Mary has been working with the City of Williamsburg, Colonial Williamsburg, the Virginia Health Department, Peninsula Health District and other community partners as the commonwealth implements its vaccine distribution plan. The university has provided the vaccine clinic administration at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitors Center with a list of employees that meet the criteria for Phase 1B. The university has also asked that all those who wish to be vaccinated sign up through the statewide registration system.

“I’m incredibly proud of our town-gown partnership and the other leading institutions in our localities,” Rowe said. “We have built together, led by the city of Williamsburg and James City County, the ability to vaccinate about 3,000 people a day, so we can move fast and really efficiently when the vaccine supply is ready. We are ready.”

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Joseph said that they received hundreds of messages from members of the W&M community with questions for Fauci. Among those was when college students may expect to get vaccinated.

“We made the decision at William & Mary to maintain all safety requirements including masks in public spaces,” said Joseph. “On those vaccines, when is the latest that college students will be able to access [them]?”

Fauci said he expects vaccines to be available to the majority of college students in May, with those having underlying medical conditions being eligible earlier. He previously projected that timeframe for April, but quantities of one of the major vaccines have lagged to create a delay.

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A rise in COVID-19 cases following the holiday season of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s saw an “exponential increase” of as many as 300,000 or more cases a day in the United States. William & Mary also saw an increase of cases as students made their way back to campus this month, but Fauci says the numbers are trending downward significantly.

“Fortunately now, we have a dramatic diminution going down, but we can’t be complacent about that because there are variants, namely mutations, that could in fact turn it around again,” Fauci said.

The United States’ vaccine program is a reason for optimism. Fauci called the vaccine program a “roaring success” with multiple vaccine candidates that are 94% to 95% effective.

“You could start to see a dramatic diminution in the number of cases based on early results of vaccines,” Fauci said. “For example, if you get 30 or 40 or 50% of the population vaccinated, even though you haven’t reached the 85% of people vaccinated that you would need for herd immunity, you could still have a dramatic effect on diminishing the number of new cases.”

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Fauci said clinical trials have shown vaccines to be up to 95% effective in preventing symptoms. The impact of vaccines on the spread of COVID-19 is still unknown.

“Conceivably you could transmit it to someone else even though you have no symptoms at all,” Fauci said. “That’s why we say even though you’ve been vaccinated, you must continue to wear a mask when you are in the presence of people who have not been vaccinated in order to prevent you from theoretically infecting them.”

In addition to commending William & Mary for its attention to preventative health measures like mask wearing and physical distancing, Fauci highlighted the role of higher education in the prevention of future pandemics by training a vast group of professionals who work together in fighting and preventing pandemics.

Fauci said that group goes beyond physicians, scientists and public health officials to also include environmental health professionals, veterinarians and people who study the animal-human interface.

Fauci has seen many people come together to help fight COVID-19. There’s still work to be done, however.

“Where I would like to see it be is we have this outbreak under control and it is no longer the threat that it is,” Fauci said. “I believe we’re going to get there within this calendar year in the United States, but the problem is a global pandemic requires a global response.

“So it’s a two-phased thing: Get it under control in the United States and be an important part of the effort to control it globally.”

Fauci himself was a product of a liberal arts and sciences education from the College of Holy Cross, from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in classical studies with a pre-med track before making his way to medical school at Cornell University.

“I think [my degree] prepared me as much, if not more than my scientific training, to be honest with you,” Fauci said. “That sounds somewhat paradoxical, but it’s true.

“I think understanding civilizations, understanding mankind, understanding a variety of aspects about the humanities was as important as the biology that got me to be able to do science, because of understanding the complexity of issues that go into outbreaks, about how humanity responds to outbreaks.”