Dr. Fauci speaks with the Georgia Municipal Association in a Jan. 25 interview.

In an interview yesterday with the Georgia Municipal Association, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a lead member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and one of the world’s leading experts on infectious diseases, said municipal leaders have a “critical” role to play in both containing the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring that the vaccines are distributed and administered effectively in order to end the pandemic.

“I think local leaders are some of the most important components of getting the message to the community, which was one of the reasons I was enthusiastic to speak with you,” he said. “You really want to make sure that the people who are on the ground, close to the community, are very aware of the information in real time. … Congratulations on what you do, because it really is important.”

Directly addressing the abundance of misinformation about the disease and treatments since the pandemic began nearly a year ago, Dr. Fauci stressed the importance of listening to public concerns and promoting solid scientific evidence.

“We’ve got to start basing things on facts,” he said. “We’ve just got to explain the facts to people.”

He urged local leaders to engage in conversations about the COVID vaccines and work to allay the fears of those who doubt their safety or efficacy.

“Some people are worried that maybe it’s the federal government trying to put something over on us, or companies trying to make some money,” he acknowledged.

But the unprecedented speed at which vaccines were developed — in just 11 months — indicates “spectacular advances in the science of vaccine platform technologies,” he said, and not a lowering of rigorous vetting standards.

“Safety was not compromised, nor was scientific integrity,” he said. “The determination of whether a vaccine is safe and effective is made at the end of clinical trials involving tens of thousands of people. … The whole process is both independent and transparent.”

Trial data is evaluated by an independent data and safety monitoring board that includes scientists, vaccinologists, ethicists, and statisticians, and “is not accountable to the federal government or the pharmaceutical companies.” If the board signs off, then the U.S. Food and Drug Administration conducts its own review.

Fauci said he’s confident in the new Biden administration’s prioritization of COVID vaccination and its five-part vaccine plan. He said the effort could get a boost from additional vaccines that could be coming online soon, such as a single-dose version being developed by Johnson & Johnson.

“Getting back to normal,” he said, “is highly dependent on the percentage of people that we get vaccinated.” Part of the challenge, he said, is getting “through and past this vaccine hesitancy.”

If we get in the area of 85% of the population vaccinated by mid-summer, he said, “we could be approaching” normal activities by mid- to late-fall. By the end of this year, he said, “We can feel much different than we do now.”

Because COVID and the vaccines are so new, he said it’s too soon to know if additional vaccine doses might be needed in the future.

“We have that [possibility] in our long-term strategic plan,” he said.

Asked about the level of concern over mutations of the coronavirus, Fauci said virus mutation is to be expected, and the new coronavirus variants do not appear to be more virulent, though they are more transmissible. He said it’s possible that people would need a vaccine booster later on to effectively fight variants, but “for the time being, things look OK.”

Signaling a dramatic shift under the new presidential administration, Fauci sat with the Georgia Municipal Association just hours after speaking to the World Health Organization about the United States rejoining the organization and hours before a scheduled meeting with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss pandemic response.

Dr. Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to the president, has served American public health in various capacities for more than 50 years.

The half-hour interview was conducted by GMA Executive Director Larry Hanson, General Counsel Rusi Patel, and Communications Director Kelli Bennett. The GMA has shared the interview with state municipal leagues across the country.

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