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Dr Anthony Fauci: UK was ‘smart’ to drop herd immunity strategy

13 September 2020, 12:52 | Updated: 13 September 2020, 14:14

By Ewan Somerville

America’s top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci has told LBC that the UK’s initial herd immunity strategy “didn’t work” and ministers were “smart” to change tack.

In an exclusive interview with LBC’s Tom Swarbrick on Sunday, when asked about the UK’s response, White House Covid-19 adviser Dr Fauci said he is constantly asked that question about the US handling of the crisis, adding: “You could have always done better.”

“It’s very interesting because I get asked that a lot about our response. You could always have done better. I think what the UK did at the beginning they thought they would perhaps go the herd immunity route and let there be infections but that didn’t work. They were smart enough to say wait a minute, we’ve got to reverse our strategy and then I think they did as well as anyone could expect.

Anthony Fauci spoke to LBC's Tom Swarbrick
Anthony Fauci spoke to LBC's Tom Swarbrick. Picture: LBC

“It’s easy to criticise retrospectively about what you could have done better, if you look at the entire planet and all the different countries most countries had a problem. I’m always reluctant to make any critique, hopefully looking forward you’ll do much better.”

Mr Fauci said the suspension of Oxford University’s AstraZeneca vaccine trial represents a “serious adverse event” but that it “doesn’t blunt my optimism” for a successful vaccine by the end of the year, adding it shows “good checks and balances” exist. The trial resumed yesterday after a safety assessment was carried out.

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“The issue now is something that is one of those things that’s just the reality of vaccine trials. They ran into a serious adverse event and they did the appropriate thing; they put the trial on hold which means there will be no more enrolment until they figure this out, but hopefully they’ll figure it out soon,” he told LBC.

“But when you have six or seven candidates and one gets slowed down, the entire field doesn’t get slowed down because the others are right on course.”

He added: “My feeling is that by the time we get to the end of this calendar year - November, December - we likely will know whether we have a safe and effective vaccine or more than one vaccine.

“There are three candidates, including one from the UK, that are being tested right now in the United States in a phase 3 trial and we hope that by the end of this year we’ll get enough results to make a determination as to whether it’s safe and effective.” 

Anthony Fauci said his relationship with Donald Trump was 'complicated'
Anthony Fauci said his relationship with Donald Trump was 'complicated'. Picture: AP

“We are going quickly but it’s important to point out that the speed by no means compromises safety, nor does it compromise scientific integrity,” he added. “The speed is based on the extraordinary advances in technology that have occurred over the last 10 years or so.”

Mr Fauci has gained acclaim during the pandemic for being willing to speak his mind, even when it puts him on a collision course with his boss - a certain US president Donald Trump. 

Now in an affront to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s claim that asymptomatic people are being “inappropriate” in using up testing capacity, Mr Fauci warned now know that around 40 to 45 per cent of those infected with the virus are asymptomatic, with the level at 50 per cent in the US and “not any different” in the UK. 

Anthony Fauci has often been at odds with the US president during the pandemic
Anthony Fauci has often been at odds with the US president during the pandemic. Picture: AP

“Health officials like myself often - and I think that most of my colleagues argee with me - feel that testing people who are without symptoms is an important part of the public health endeavour and should be pursued,” he told LBC. 

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“If you ignore asymptomatic infection, you’re ignoring a very important part of the problem.” 

He added that a vaccine is essential to return to “some degree of normality”, and that shifting data and scientific recommendations during the pandemic mean even he has mistakes along the way. 

Mr Fauci said having “played down” the public use of face masks was a mistake given they are now a “must”, but that the turning point was evidence changing on how those without symptoms were transmitting the virus and industry ramped up mask supply. 

He told LBC: “We had a difficulty in the US because the president up until recently has not really been wearing a mask, and even now he doesn’t wear a mask, so that obviously isn’t good.”

Discussing his relationship with the US president, Mr Fauci said: “You know, it’s complicated. When we’re one-on-one in the Oval Office we have a good relationship. 

“When I say things that I feel are the truth and the honest things that tend to sometimes conflict with what he says, he pushes back and he gets critical of me. Which is understandable.”  

Asked by LBC if he trusts Mr Trump, Mr Fauci said he does, adding: “I have served six presidents since Ronald Reagan. And the reason why I’m still here serving presidents is that I, at times, do not answer questions that are definitely going to get you into trouble."

Has the president misled the American people? “Not going to go there. I’m not going to say what you’d like me to say," Mr Fauci said.