Staff Writer Grace Fitzgerald-Diaz attended an event with Dr. Fauci put on by the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia.

I’m not sure if I’d call it a joy, but one of the unique things about Zoom is the ability to be in two places at once. So on Thursday, I found myself simultaneously logging into my last chem lecture before an exam at the same time as I listened to an event put on by Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health with Dr. Anthony Fauci, where he discussed the pandemic and the upcoming vaccination campaign.

To be quite honest, most of what Dr. Fauci said was information I, and likely many audience members, already knew. Many of his more interesting points came during the Q&A when he noted that there is a plan in place to distribute vaccines to countries that do not have the capability to distribute the vaccine themselves. He also emphasized his belief that although the idea of state’s rights is one that is incredibly important to the US, that a unified national approach is essential to turn the tide on this pandemic. He emphasized that this is a situation where a state-by-state approach will fail given that a virus does not respect state lines.  

Although much of what Dr. Fauci said was information that is well-known, as someone who is part of an extremely vulnerable group, I feel it is something that many of my healthy peers could use a reminder of. He noted that up to 45% of cases are asymptomatic, saying, “Transmission at the community level by asymptomatic individuals appears to be a major driving force in this outbreak.” 

Dr. Fauci stressed that this is something many of us, especially younger people, should take note of, as you may not have any idea you have it—and thus not take extra precautions—unless you receive a positive test. Dr. Fauci noted that about 80% of cases are mild to moderate. But having a mild case doesn’t mean that you can’t transmit it: you could still transmit it to someone like me, who has a much higher risk of facing a severe or lethal case of the virus. There’s the possibility that you’ll end up on a ventilator—which, as someone who’s been on one multiple times can say, is without a doubt the single most painful experience of my life. And, as Dr. Fauci noted, ending up on one because of COVID carries a mortality rate of over 20%. For young people, there’s the possibility of developing Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C). This has been a deadly complication of COVID documented in children and young adults. 

The vaccine is coming—but it will take time. Yesterday, the Pfizer vaccine, which uses novel mRNA technology, was approved for emergency use by the FDA. But it will be months before it is distributed to the majority of the student body of a school like Columbia—a school where the majority of the student body is composed of young, healthy individuals. The vaccine does offer hope for an end to the pandemic, but it will not be immediate.

Even once it is widely available, Dr. Fauci noted that there may be challenges in getting people to take it, as the anti-vaxxer movement has capitalized on the fact that the vaccine is based on new technology to raise concerns over its safety. But as he pointed out, the overwhelming majority of adverse effects show up within 30-45 days. And, even for emergency approval, the FDA requires 60  days of monitoring test subjects and continues to follow them for two years. 

This pandemic is not over. The approval of a vaccine offers real hope for an end to this strange world we have been living in over the past year. But there is still a long, difficult winter ahead of us as virus cases spike across the country—across the nation, hospital capacity is already being stretched to its limits as virus cases continue to soar. The end is in sight, but it is not yet here.

image via Bwog Archives