Dec. 23, 2020 -- The headlines are sobering: "COVID-19 Deaths Surpass 9/11 Deaths in Single Day," and, more recently, "2020 is the Deadliest Year in U.S. History.”

It seems that having 3,000 people die each day should spark widespread compassion and a change in public behavior to stop the spread of the virus. But not so. Despite pleas to stay put, holiday travelers at Thanksgiving crammed airports in record numbers for the pandemic, and airports are reporting busy travel for Christmas as well. People just don’t ignore stay-at-home orders, they flout them. In Los Angeles, police arrested 158 people at a ''super-spreader" party, despite stay-at-home orders. And plenty of people still argue they have a right not to wear a mask.

Dr. Fauci: Life Could Be Back to Normal by JuneWebMD's Chief Medical Officer, John Whyte, MD, speaks with Anthony S. Fauci, MD, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), about the latest news on COVID-19 vaccines and the potential end of the pandemic.1074


JOHN WHYTE: Welcome, everyone.

You're watching Coronavirus

in Context.

I'm Dr. John Whyte,

chief medical officer at WebMD.

Today I have a very special

guest, Dr. Anthony Fauci,

the world's leading authority

on infectious disease.

Dr. Fauci, thanks for joining.


It's good to be with you.

JOHN WHYTE: Dr. Fauci, I heard

you got the vaccine today,

so I wanted to ask you

about your experience.

How are you feeling?

ANTHONY FAUCI: I'm feeling

perfectly fine, perfectly

normal, nothing so far.

I have no pain in my arm.

I had nothing to even indicate

that I had been vaccinated.

I feel perfectly fine.

That was about,

let's say, about three,

four hours ago.

I'm doing great.

JOHN WHYTE: Now, people ask,

does it feel cold?

They know they're kept

at these super frozen

temperatures, but was there any

tingling or--


No, you don't feel it at all


It was even, several of us

remarked because I got it

together with a group of health

care providers, and I'm also

a health care provider,

but I got it with them,

and all of us

agreed that it was even less

of a feeling than the flu shot.

You know, flu shot sometimes

it hurts a little.

It didn't hurt at all.

It was perfectly fine.

JOHN WHYTE: I want to ask you

about the vaccine

because you've talked about how

impressed you have been

with the safety

and efficacy data,

94, 95% effective

for both of these vaccines.

If the data is so compelling,

why have it authorized

under emergency use authority as

opposed to full approval?

ANTHONY FAUCI: That's a very

good question, John.

And the reason is you want

to get it out as quickly

as possible.

To do the full dotting the I

and crossing the T's

of a biological license

application, the BLA,

that would take several more

months to do.

So when you do an EUA,

particularly an EUA that's

granted on the strength

of these data,

which is really quite


both of these vaccines not

only were safe, but they were

94% to 95% efficacious

in preventing any clinically

recognizable disease

and even better in preventing

severe disease.

So we felt that we wanted to get

it out quickly while the process

of putting in

for the full license approval.

We didn't want to have months go

by without people having

the advantage of the vaccine


the extraordinary situation

in our country.

As you well know,

we're in a very difficult


We're having between 200

and more thousand cases a day,

anywhere between two and 3,000

deaths per day.

Hospitalizations has reached

a record of 118,000.

Places like California

are being stressed to the point

they may run out of beds.

So you don't want to be delaying

vaccine merely

because bureaucratically you

have to go through a bunch

of hoops

to get the official approval.

The data are quite

strong to grant an emergency use


JOHN WHYTE: Some people have

been out there saying, just

to your point,

given the number of infections,

the number of deaths,

the scarcity of the vaccine

right now,

let's not focus on two doses,

but there's some efficacy,

some significant efficacy

after the first dose.

Why not just start giving more

people the first dose?

And one is better than none.

What are your thoughts

about that approach?

ANTHONY FAUCI: That has been

discussed a fair amount.

What people don't appreciate,

even though there is some degree

of efficacy after a single dose,

it is really not optimal at all,

and we don't know how long it


We do know definitively

that when you give a prime,

even though you do get

some degree of immunity

after the prime single dose,

after the second dose,

it's dramatically higher,

and it lasts considerably


JOHN WHYTE: What about data

in children?

Particularly, let's say less

than 12 years old.

Should we be worrying about

vaccination in children

given we know the journey

of the disease in children

versus really focusing

on teachers and workers

and other adults?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, do you want

to do both.

So the reason we traditionally,

when we make a vaccine

and test a vaccine,

is that you don't want to test

it on children because children

are vulnerable.

They do not have the capability

of giving informed consent,

which is important.

It's their life, though they're

very young.

It's still their life.

So you've got to take

extra special care in safety.

So the standard traditional

thing we do is you do a vaccine

study that's a phase three

large study in adults.

When you get good safety

and good data on efficacy,

then you can feel

justified in taking the risk

of trying it in a child.

You can do a phase one,

phase 2A in a child

after you complete the vaccine

trial in the adult

and then quickly get

the children to get

vaccinated by what's called

a bridging study.

A bridging study means you don't

have to spend the entire time

doing tens of thousands

of children the way

we did with the adult.

You can do a couple of thousand,

2,000 to 3,000 or 4,000 kids,

show that it's safe,

and show that it induces

the kind of response that's

comparable to the response that

protected the adult.

Then you can make the assumption

that it will protect children,

and then you license it

because you've proven safety,

and you have a very good

indication that it likely will

protect the children.

We're going to start that, John,

probably the middle to the end

of January.

JOHN WHYTE: Do we need

to vaccinate kids before we can

reopen schools?

ANTHONY FAUCI: No, I don't think

that that's necessary.

I think that the default

position should be as best as

possible to keep the children

in school

or get them back to school

if they're not in school.

We know now that when

all other things being equal,

children in school

get infected less than the

adults in the community.

So if you have the capability

of dealing with kids

when they get infected,

you have reasonably good

surveillance, like maybe

vaccinate the teachers

to protect them in the school

and prevent them from infecting

the children.


on the next prioritization list

as well.

You know, I want to ask you

about vaccine confidence,

and you might have seen the data

from a USA Today survey that

just came out that talks

about Democrats

are nearly twice as

willing as Republicans

to receive the vaccine,

and even more concerning can be

that 36% of Republicans

say they'll never take

the vaccine.

How do we get to 70, 80% herd

immunity, Dr. Fauci, if we have

these issues with confidence

in the vaccine?

What are the one or two things

that we need to be doing now

to inspire confidence?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, I think

we need outreach

to the communities

of all people, Republican

and Democrat minorities

and people

in the general population.

The way we have approached it

is to not essentially confront

people who are hesitant

or who have skepticism but try

and reason with them and say,

what are the reasons why you

have skepticism.

And there are a couple

of well-defined reasons.

If the reason is,

boy, this went really quickly,

was it careless and quick,

and then you show that the speed

of the fact that we went

from a brand new virus

in January to a vaccine

that we're putting into people

in December

is not compromising safety,

nor is it compromising

scientific integrity.

What it is a reflection of

is the extraordinary scientific

advances that have been made

in vaccine platform technology,

which have allowed us to do

things in months that we

normally would have taken years.

There's no compromise in safety.

The next question people ask,

understandably, is, well, you're

saying this is safe,

and you're saying that it's


Is that true, or is this

the government putting pressure

on you?

Is it

the pharmaceutical companies

wanting to make a lot of money?

JOHN WHYTE: So tell us,

what's the answer?


the answer is--

and this is important, John--

is that the decision

of whether something

is safe and effective,

the data that gets examined is

done so by a totally independent

data and safety monitoring board

made up of vaccinologists,

virologists, immunologists,

statisticians, and others,

who look at the data who have

no allegiance, don't answer

to the federal government.

They don't answer

to the pharmaceutical company.

They're an independent group.

When they decide

that the vaccine data look

really good,

and it's safe and effective,

they then give the data

to the company who presents it

to the FDA, who then, the career

scientist at the FDA, not

political appointees,

but the career scientists work

with their own independent

advisory committee, which they

have an established

committee called the Vaccine

and Related Biological Products

Advisory Committee, or VRBPAC.

They then say, OK, it's cleared.

Let's give it.

So in reality,

the entire process

is independent and transparent,

and that's what people need

to know, and when they do,

I believe they will be much,

much more amenable to getting


JOHN WHYTE: Everyone's talking

about the variant,

you know this, and the concern

that will the vaccine be


What are the countermeasures

that we need to be taking now?

You've been talking about we

don't want to overreact,

and others are saying,

you know, now is the time

that we need to be overly

cautious in a way.

What's your response to assuage

people's concerns about what

they might be hearing

on the news

or reading online

about the impact

of these potential variants?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, I think

they need to understand

something broadly at 40,000

feet that this is an RNA virus,

and RNA viruses mutate all

the time.

That's their occupation

is mutating.

The more they replicate,

the more they mutate.

Most of the mutations

do not have

any functional significance or

functional relevance.

The one that's being looked

at now, the one that's

dominant in the United Kingdom

is one that appears--

we don't know for sure--

but it looks like that it has

a better capability

of transmitting of going

from person to person.

There's no evidence that it has

any effect on its virulence,

or namely, does it make people

more sick, it doesn't.

The other important issue, is it

true or not

that it's evading the protection

of a vaccine,

and it doesn't appear

that that's the case at all.

So what we need to do

is we need to watch it very,

very carefully.

We need to do surveillance

in this country.

And then there is discussion

about if it isn't already here,

which it might well be here,

and we don't know it yet,

what do you do?

And there's been discussions--

some people, I know the European

Union is banning travel

from the UK.

I think that may be

an overreaction now.

I would not be against at least

seriously considering making

sure that people who fly here

or come here from England,

the UK, to the United States,

that you require they be tested

before they get on the plane

so that you know they're

negative when they get here.

That, I think's something that

might be considered.

I'm not saying we should do it,

but we should consider it.

JOHN WHYTE: Those are all

good points.

You know, I always ask

my colleagues, what should we

ask Dr. Fauci?

So I want to give them

an opportunity, and you know,

I have to use a crystal ball.

And you don't have one there,

but I have one here, Dr. Fauci.

Our producer sent it.

And the question

was that many people have

postponed their weddings

from last year

to March or April of this year.

Do they need to postpone it


ANTHONY FAUCI: You know, they

should have done it till June,


And the reason is--

JOHN WHYTE: Not going to be

happy to hear that.

ANTHONY FAUCI: I'm sorry, John.

You know, we don't know--

I have been saying,

and I think it's going to work

out that way,

that if we do it efficiently,

and it depends on how efficient

we are,

if we get the priority people


the ones that the ACIP is

recommending, if we get them

vaccinated between now,

and let's

say, March, beginning of April,

and we could start in April

doing what I call open season

on vaccinations,

namely anybody

in the general population who

wants to get vaccinated

will get vaccinated.

If that's the case, when we go

through April, May, June, July,

by the time we get

into the middle

or end of the summer,

I believe we will have-- if we

do it correctly,

we can have 70% to 85%

of the population vaccinated.

When that occurs, there will be

an umbrella of protection

over the entire country

that the level of virus

will be so low that you will

essentially have been

able to establish herd immunity.

So I'm looking forward to as we

finish the second quarter

and go into the third quarter

of 2021.

JOHN WHYTE: And finally, I want

to ask you about the Fauci

effect, the impact

that you're having

on young students who are


I want to go into medicine,

I want to go into science.

When you heard about the Fauci

effect, how did you feel?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, I felt good

that young people want to go

into a profession that I love

and that I have been in for so

many years.

I think it's-- well, it goes

beyond me.

I mean, they're calling it

the Fauci effect,

and I'm very

flattered that that's the case.

But I think it also relates

to the courage of the health

care providers in the emergency

rooms, in the intensive care


I think people are seeing a face

of medicine

that they may not have seen

before, of people who are really

stepping up to the plate

and doing their job.

I'm doing it by trying to speak

truth to the country

and trying to be

clear in the explanation of what

is going on in a way

that they understand.

The health care providers are

risking themselves, their health

and their lives every day

to take care of people.

So I think that the face

of medicine is a much, much more

attractive face now than it may

have been in the past.

JOHN WHYTE: My colleagues have

also wanted to ask you in terms

of your professional career,

you've dealt with HIV, Ebola,

other pandemics

around the world.

Why has COVID-19 been so


Is it the politics

around this issue?

Is it the impact of social media

that didn't exist before?

Why so hard now?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, whenever

you have a public health

outbreak, a really transforming

outbreak the likes of which we

haven't seen in 102 years,

everyone has got to pull

together to get a maximum impact

on addressing it.

Unfortunately, we are living

in a very divisive society.

I think anybody that looks

and what's going on

in the United States

has to realize that there is

a lot of divisiveness.

That makes it much, much more


because simple public health

measures take

on a political connotation.

You said it yourself when you

gave the numbers.

Why should there

be any difference

between a Republican

and a Democrat

as to whether they want to take

a vaccine or not?

There's no reason why there

should be.

I mean, because it's

a public health issue.

I think it's just a reflection

of the kind of divisiveness

we see.

So you're right.

That has made it difficult

because it has led

to mixed messaging,

and when you get

mixed messaging,

people get confused as to what's

the best thing to do.

And you've really got to be

uniform and consistent when

you're fighting something as

serious as a pandemic.

JOHN WHYTE: Dr. Fauci, I want

to thank you for all the work

that you've been doing for 40

plus years running the National

Allergy and Infectious

Disease, as well as all you are

doing to keep us

safe during a type of pandemic

that occurs once a century.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Thank you, John.

Good to be with you.

John Whyte, MD, MPH, Chief Medical Officer, WebMD.<br>Anthony S. Fauci, MD, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)./delivery/aws/b9/09/b909485e-f78b-332b-bd9d-d41c76d75385/Fauci_122220_v3_,4500k,2500k,1000k,750k,400k,.mp412/23/2020 12:30:0018001200Fauci_122220_1800x1200/webmd/consumer_assets/site_images/article_thumbnails/video/covid19-images/Fauci_122220_1800x1200.jpg091e9c5e820b7ed1

This seeming indifference that sets in when we're faced with such a crisis is known by mental health experts as psychic numbing, says Paul Slovic, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, Eugene, and president of Decision Research, a nonprofit institute that investigates decisions of modern life.

Psychic numbing ''is a lack of feeling associated with information," he says. "The meaning of information is heavily determined by the feeling that information creates in us."

"If some information conveys a positive feeling, that’s a signal to approach whatever the situation is. If it sends a negative feeling, it’s a signal to retreat. We need these feelings to truly understand the meaning of the information."

How we react to a crisis like the pandemic depends on the mode of thinking we are using, Slovic says. He cites the work of psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of a Nobel Prize in economics for his work on decision-making and author of the bestseller Thinking Fast and Slow.

Slow thinking uses mathematical models, Slovic says; it's how we were taught to think in school. "We can think that way but rarely do it because it's hard work," he says. "The human brain is lazy; if it can [process information] through feeling, that's our default mode of thinking."

The only way to understand the impact of the COVID toll, Slovic says, is to think slowly and carefully so we understand what science is telling us. Without doing so, as the numbers get bigger and bigger, he says, ''you don't feel anything at all; it's just a number."

As Tragedy Rises, Concern Doesn't Keep Up

In their research, Slovic and others also have found that someone’s concern about others in danger doesn't increase with the number of people affected. "One person in danger can signal a lot of strong feelings," he says. "People will risk their lives to save someone in danger." That's especially true if the person is a loved one, he says.

However, ''if I told you there were two people in danger, you wouldn’t feel twice as concerned. You are already feeling concern about one. If there were two, you might feel a little more concerned.'' Or, you might feel less concerned because your attention is divided.

In one study, Slovic and his team presented three scenarios to college students: a 7-year-old girl who was desperately poor and needed help, a 9-year-old boy who was desperately poor and needed help, or both needing help. Students gave higher donations when one person needed help, he found.

He concluded that the decline in compassion may begin with the second endangered life.

Regarding the COVID death and case totals, he says, ''you don't have a sense of the individual lives. That's psychic numbing. You lose feeling, you lose emotions. These are [just] dry statistics."

Psychic Numbing and Other Issues

Psychic numbing is also common in other issues, including climate change, says Leif Griffin, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area

"Psychic numbing is this adaptive way of not feeling or fully registering on an emotional level the sort of threat or, in some ways, the traumatic experience that is occurring," he says.

So, every year becomes hotter, but ''we don't want to think about what it means to our planet," Griffin says. Psychic numbing allows us to ''be aware of something but not emotionally process or be in touch with the thing that is occurring."

In a way, Griffin says, psychic numbing is like saying, ''Don't intrude on my sense of safety."

Robert Jay Lifton, MD, a distinguished professor emeritus of psychiatry and psychology at The City University of New York, coined the term psychic numbing.

"When I interviewed survivors of the first atomic bomb dropped on a human population in Hiroshima, they often described their minds kind of shutting down. I came to call that psychic numbing."

And, he says, "it can be adaptive," helping people cope in some situations. In their cases, he says, it was a defense mechanism to get through the experience.

But when psychic numbing persists in the face of danger, Lifton says, it can create considerable problems, leading to withdrawal or even depression. It's one of the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he says.

Psychic numbing is playing a role in the COVID pandemic, Lifton says, as people use it to try to hold off their anxiety about death.

Reducing COVID's 'Psychic Numbing'

Psychic numbing can affect behavior, including resistance to mask-wearing and other preventive measures, Slovic and Lifton agree.

Public health experts need statistics to fight COVID, Slovic says, but he suggests they also try to trigger a feeling when they present numbers if they want to reduce psychic numbing.

For instance, showing a graph that shows the upward trends of cases and deaths could help. "Even if you don't know the exact number, you can see the curve is going straight up. You get a feeling from looking at that fast-increasing curve," he says.

Talking about individual cases is another good way to decrease psychic numbing, Slovic says. And as statistics are presented, health care providers should talk about crowded intensive care units and emergency rooms, he says. Stories of people who contracted COVID after denying the risk are also powerful, he says.

Show Sources

Paul Slovic, PhD, professor of psychology, University of Oregon; president, Decision Research, Eugene, OR.

Leif Griffin, PsyD, clinical psychologist, San Francisco Bay Area.

Robert Jay Lifton, MD, distinguished professor emeritus of psychiatry and psychology, The City University of New York.

American Psychological Association: "Paul Slovic observes the 'psychic numbing' of COVID-19." 

WebMD: "CVID-19 Deaths Surpass 911 Deaths in Single Day."

The Hill: "CDC Director: US COVID-19 Deaths Likely to Exceed 911 Toll for 60 Days."

PLoS One: "Compassion Fade: Affect and Charity Are Greatest for a Single Child in Need."

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