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Anthony Fauci Tells Wash U Audience To Allay Coronavirus Vaccine Fears With Facts

D. Myles Cullen
The White House
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gives remarks at a coronavirus update briefing at the White House in March 2020. Fauci visited students and staff at Washington University Medical School on Thursday.

The nation's top infectious disease expert told doctors and students at Washington University School of Medicine on Thursday that communication and empathy are key to treating patients during the coronavirus pandemic.

In an online address, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that the end of the coronavirus pandemic is in sight, but that 70% of the nation's population must receive vaccine before there is widespread immunity to the virus.

More than 100,000 people have received a dose of coronavirus vaccine in Missouri, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More people than ever will likely get sick and die in January, said Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. By April, he said, case counts could begin to decrease.

“If we get 100 million people vaccinated in 100 days the way President-elect Biden wants to do, I think you’ll start to see some impact on the dynamics of the outbreak, which might be able to allow us to pull back a little bit,” he said.

But it will be difficult to persuade patients who distrust the science behind the vaccines’ development to receive the vaccine, Fauci said. Health workers should treat those patients with empathy and address their concerns with medical evidence.

“I think the general public, in order to trust us as scientists, need to realize we don’t know everything we need to know at any given moment, and we have to evolve and make adjustments as the science gives us data and evidence,” he said.

Fauci said he understands why some people grew hesitant to follow public health officials’ guidance after health experts changed their advice on the effectiveness of mask wearing earlier this year.

A lack of a unified government response has also undercut public trust in medical institutions, he said.

Fauci, who has worked at the National Institutes of Health since the late 1960s and was a lead federal researcher in the early days of the HIV epidemic, said he has never seen Americans politicize a disease as much as they have COVID-19.

“Public health has been immersed in a divisive society, which has made it very, very difficult to have a unified response,” he said. “There are regions of the country where hospitals are filled with people in intensive care units who are dying, and the people in the community still feel it’s fake news.”

Instead of shaming those people, doctors should address their concerns with facts, he said.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @Petit_Smudge

Sarah is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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