Dr. Fauci Says These 3 Things Could Prevent Us From Returning to Normal

These factors could stand between us and the light at the end of the tunnel, Fauci warns.

White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, has been optimistic about our ability to contain COVID. He's sung the praises of the approved vaccines, which far surpassed his hopes in terms of efficacy and did so on a record-breaking timeline. He's given hopeful projections on welcoming students back to schools, reopening businesses, and finally containing the virus—all before the end of 2021. But as far as a true return to normal goes, Fauci's been a bit more cautious. In a Feb. 2 interview with columnist David Ignatius for Washington Post Live, the interviewer asked, "When do you think for us here in America, life is going to get back to something like normal?"

"It depends on so many factors," Fauci was quick to point out. "You're going to approach some degree of normality as you get into the fall. But you got to say 'however,' and I want to underline 'however' about five times, David, because there are a lot of things that could get in the way of that."

At the top of the doctor's list of potential roadblocks are three particular concerns. The good news? We've got at least some control over all three if we play our cards right. Read on to learn the things that Fauci says could prevent us from getting back to normal, and for more insights from the top infectious disease expert, check out Dr. Fauci Just Gave This Scary Update on the New COVID Strain.

1
More mutations

Top view of doctor talking to covid-19 patient
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As Fauci points out, new coronavirus mutations cropping up in the U.S. from the U.K., South Africa, and Brazil are complicating the fight against COVID. "RNA viruses, which SARS-coronavirus-2 is, mutate readily, and they mutate much better when they replicate a lot, like when you have a lot of infection in the community," Fauci explained.

He explained that after enough community spread, "you get mutations that do impact the virus' function; for example, could make it more transmissible, could have an effect on making it more dangerous in the sense of causing more serious illness." In other words, these variants, if allowed to replicate and further mutate, could become significantly more dangerous over time.

As of Feb. 4, there are 619 cases of these three new strains in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most widespread of which is the U.K. strain, which accounts for 611 of those cases and is presently in 33 states. And for more on where that strain is taking over specifically, check out These 2 States Are "At Risk of Being Overrun" by the New COVID Strain.

2
Vaccines not being effective against mutations

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One of the most frightening ways the new variants could continue to evolve is by developing more resistance to COVID vaccines. "Importantly, it could ultimately evade or avoid the protective effect of both monoclonal antibodies and the antibodies that are induced by a vaccine," Fauci explained, citing concerns about the South African variant in particular.

His solution? "A, we've got to do good surveillance, namely do genomic sequencing surveillance so that we know when these mutations arise in our country; and B, we need to be prepared to upgrade the vaccines if it turns out that they evolve more to completely avoid the protective effect of the vaccine."

This is already happening for the South African strain, which the current vaccines proved to be less effective against. Moderna is developing an additional dose that could provide protection against the tricky strain should it become more dominant in the States. "Out of an abundance of caution and leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are advancing an emerging variant booster candidate against the variant first identified in the Republic of South Africa into the clinic to determine if it will be more effective to boost titers against this and potentially future variants," Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, said in a statement on Jan. 25. And for more vaccination insights from Fauci, check out Dr. Fauci Says These 2 Side Effects Mean Your COVID Vaccine Is Working.

3
Vaccine hesitancy

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According to Fauci, one of the biggest issues we're currently facing is vaccine hesitancy, and this could greatly hinder our prospects of shutting down new variants in time. "I would say without hyperbole that a day does not go by when I am not out there in some form of outreach," Fauci said, referring to his efforts to promote community-level confidence in vaccination programs.

"If you want to prevent the evolution of mutations, you've got to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, and if you have vaccine hesitancy or reluctance to get vaccinated, you're never going to get to that overwhelming majority of the population," he explained. "So, vaccine hesitancy is critical, and we are addressing it." And for more vaccine news, check out Dr. Fauci Says These People Will Be Able to Get Vaccinated "Quite Soon."

4
…But he does believe things can get better

Two young female friends walk in an alleyway while talking to each other and wearing face masks.
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In a Jan. 7 interview with NPR, Fauci was optimistic about our prospects of returning to relative normalcy by the fall. "I would expect by the time we get to April, it will be what we call open season on vaccines," he said. "So I think by the end of the summer, if we get 70 percent to 85 percent of the population vaccinated and get a good herd immunity, I think by the fall we could start to approach some form of normality," the same timeline he offered when speaking with Ignatius.

But, as he was quick to warn, any optimism should be rooted in this understanding: we won't get there without concerted effort to stop community spread and limit mutations now. This would require widespread compliance to social distancing and mask-wearing measures, as well as a swift vaccination rollout. In other words, if we want it, we're going to need to work for it.

"Anybody can make a reasonable prediction of when we're going to get back to some form of normality, but I think the American public has to realize that that's always contingent on certain things going right, and if they do go right, then the numbers and the dates that I mentioned will be OK," he told Ignatius. "All of these things are contingencies, David, that will then get us to normal, but they've all got to fall into place. Otherwise, it would be really unpredictable when we're going to get back to what we all want [which] is what it was like before this happened, namely normal existence." And for more essential updates from Fauci, check out Dr. Fauci Says Doing This After Getting Vaccinated Is a Huge Mistake.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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