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Dr. Anthony Fauci

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Looking back on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, expressed his frustration with the reaction to recommended safety measures.

“Public health issues got entangled in the profound divisiveness in our society,” Fauci said in a public discussion with the College of William & Mary president, Katherine Rowe, last week. “When you’re dealing with a common enemy, which is the virus, it is very counterproductive to be divisive over virtually everything you do.”

Fauci was frustrated that wearing a mask became a political statement, calling that “ridiculous” and suggesting that it “accounted for a less-than-optimal response that this country had.”

“I believe we’re going to get there within this calendar year.”

— Dr. Anthony Fauci

The disagreements were based “not on facts and science, but on political differences,” he said. In the next year, however, Fauci expressed hope that the country would have the virus under control and that it would eventually no longer threaten public health.

“I believe we’re going to get there within this calendar year,” Fauci said on the William & Mary call. “The problem is that a global pandemic requires a global response and if we don’t participate as [have] the other developed nations in the EU and in the U.K. and Canada and Australia, if we don’t participate in a program, in COVAX, that helps provide vaccines for the developing world … our problem will never go away.”

Indeed, last week, President Joe Biden (D) pledged $4 billion to the COVAX program at the G7 meeting.

Fauci pushed an initial estimate back for the time when vaccines for the virus would be available broadly to the United States population.

“One of the disappointments, which made me change [the] estimate, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which we anticipated would be coming in significant quantities in March and April, we learned that they will not have significant quantities until likely May and June,” Fauci said.

Reacting to a question from William & Mary Student Assembly president, Anthony Joseph, Fauci said, “Somebody like yourself, a young person, will likely have to wait until May.”

In response to a question about whether a vaccinated individual could be a carrier for COVID-19, Fauci said it is a “theoretical possibility — how likely that is, we do not know.”

The vaccination might prevent someone from showing clinical signs of the disease, but it might not keep someone from being a carrier.

He recommends people who have received the vaccine continue to wear a mask when they’re in the presence of people who have not been vaccinated, to prevent the possibility of infecting someone else.

New York State vaccinations

Snowstorms throughout the country this winter have disrupted the process of distributing vaccines.

New York State Department of Health said facilities where people scheduled appointments will connect with them before and during storms.

“As has been the case for past postponements, if any vaccine appointments at state-run sites are impacted by winter weather, they will be rescheduled over the following seven days,” a DOH spokesman said in a statement. “New Yorkers with appointments scheduled will receive an email or text message to reschedule their vaccination.”

Each resident who received a first dose at a state-run site will get a reminder email 24 hours before their second dose appointment.

When residents of the Empire State receive their first shot, they are required to schedule a second dose during that appointment.

Anyone who missed their appointment for a second shot should contact the call center to reschedule, if possible.

The state is required to keep a second dose on hand up to 42 days after a first shot, even though people who receive the Pfizer vaccine should get their second dose three weeks after the first shot and those who get the Moderna vaccine should return four weeks later. After 42 days, the state site can give the vaccine to someone else.

New York State requires all providers to keep a daily list of standby eligible people, in the event that an appointment opens up.

“As soon as providers are aware that there are more doses than people to be vaccinated, standby eligible individuals should be called, or other steps must be taken to bring additional eligible recipients to the facility or clinic before the acceptable use period expires,” the Health Department said in a statement.

Recognizing that the vaccination process can go awry during storms, providers can administer the vaccine to other public facing employees if extra doses remain at the end of a clinic and no one from a priority population can arrive before the doses expire.

As an example, the DOH suggested that commercial pharmacists who had already vaccinated eligible residents can offer the vaccine to members of the pharmacy department, store clerks, cashiers, stock workers and delivery staff.

“This exception is only for the purpose of ensuring vaccine is not wasted,” the spokesman said.

In remarks on Feb. 9, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) indicated that the supply of vaccines continues to lag well behind the demand.

“We now have about 10 million New Yorkers waiting on 300,000 doses,” Cuomo said. “The supply will only increase when and if Johnson & Johnson is approved. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are ramping up but the ramp-up is relatively slow, so we won’t see a major supply increase from Pfizer and Moderna, nowhere near what we would need to make rapid progress against the 10 million.”

Stony Brook vaccinations

Stony Brook University, meanwhile, announced that it reached a milestone last week when it distributed its 25,000th vaccine, exactly a month after the site started administering the vaccine. That means the university has vaccinated more than one person per minute for each of the 11 hours it’s been providing shots.

In a statement, President Maurie McInnis said she was “proud of the milestone” and called the effort by the university and Stony Brook Medicine “excellent work.”

SBU Hospital is also assisting in developing point-of-distribution sites in underserved communities on Long Island.

Dr. Anthony Fauci

By Peggy Olness

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts” said our NY Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. This simple but important statement has re-emerged in this unusual era as a call for truth, and can sometimes be the difference between life and death. Being informed is every citizen’s responsibility, whether making sense of a cacophony of voices during a pandemic or ultimately choosing leaders on election day. Use this time of enforced and prudent social distancing to educate yourself on how to separate fact from opinion and fiction. 

Over 100 doctors and nurses serving on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic recently sent a letter to the largest social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, Google, & YouTube, warning that misleading information about COVID-19 is threatening lives. The letter called on these organizations to more aggressively monitor the posting of medical misinformation appearing on their websites.

Misinformation about COVID-19 includes unfounded claims and conspiracy theories about the virus originating as biological weapon development and being deliberately spread by various groups or countries. Even more dangerous have been the unsubstantiated claims for “sure cures” that involve certain types of therapies or treatments with substances, many of which are poisonous or which must be monitored by a medical professional. There have been documented instances of people dying or suffering serious harm as a result of following this misinformed advice.

For COVID-19 information dependable places to start are the websites of the CDC and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was created by Congress in 1946 to focus on infectious disease and food borne pathogens. It functions under the US Public Health Service (PHS) to provide leadership and assistance for epidemics, disasters and general public health services. It is responsible for the Strategic National Stockpile, a stockpile of drugs, vaccines, and other medical products and supplies to provide for the emergency health security of the US & its territories.

Also under the PHS are the National Institutes for Health (NIH), responsible for basic and applied research for biomedical and public health, founded in the 1880’s to investigate the causes of malaria, cholera and yellow fever epidemics. A subagency, of the NIH, the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (NIAID), is the lead agency studying the nature of the coronavirus and its treatment and prevention. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, M.D, NIAID Director since 1984, has helped NIAID lead the US through a number of crises including HIV-AIDS, Ebola, West Nile Virus, SARS, H1N1 flu, MERS-CoV, Zika and COVID-19. Dr Fauci has been trying to communicate the facts his agency has discovered about coronavirus and COVID-19. Scientists are seekers of findings that can be replicated, and their research is constantly being updated, revised, communicated, and it is collaborative and open. 

Misinformation and rumor have always been a part of society, and the children’s game of “Telephone” has been used for generations to show how factual information can become changed or distorted when it is passed down a line of people. So what can we do about it? Before making decisions about action, be sure that the information and sources that are guiding you are reliable and trusted. During this COVID-19 crisis, actions taken by those around you can have negative consequences. Remember to use social media with an emphasis on “social;” your source for facts and your basis for decisions should be well-documented media/journalism and peer-reviewed science. Be sure, as President Reagan advised, you have trusted but also verified.  

The Suffolk Cooperative Library System, with the assistance of the Suffolk County League of Women Voters and building on the work of the Westchester LWV, has produced a 10 minute professional development video: “INFODEMIC 101: Inoculating Against Coronavirus Misinformation” which can be found on the Livebrary YouTube channel https://youtu.be/7qmy3FaCjHU

Peggy Olness is a board member of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email [email protected] or call 631-862-6860.