MISSOULA, Mont. – In a normal year, Dr. Anthony Fauci would come in person to the University of Montana, fill an auditorium and give the Mansfield Lecture. But this is obviously not a “normal” year.
Wednesday over Zoom, with more than six thousand people watching virtually from Montana and around the world, Dr. Fauci held a fireside chat. He answered questions from moderator Robert Saldin, the Director of the Mansfield Ethics and Public Affairs Program, as well as Montanans from all different walks of life and backgrounds.
Saldin asked Dr. Fauci if the United States and worldwide response surprised him, or if it was what he expected?
“I would have to be very honest and say that it has surprised me,” Dr. Fauci said. “This is really beyond what I imaged. When this first came in January and February of 2020, we were all hoping by the time we got to the summer with the warmer weather, that this respitory-born virus would have essentially burned itself out. And that could not be farther from the truth, as we are now well into a year, we still have a surge.”
Dr. Fauci also talked about when our society might be able to get back to normal, saying it could be as early as September, with school coming back in session full time.
“The one wildcard in all of this is the emergence of variants, which could elude some of the protections of the vaccine.” Dr. Fauci said. “If that is the case, we are already preparing to make versions of the vaccine that are specifically directed at the variants in question.”
Saldin said the Mansfield Center received over 400 different questions for Dr. Fauci when they asked on their social media channels. Four pre-picked individuals got to ask specific questions of President Biden’s Chief Medical Advisor.
The first came from Kaylee Kronsperger, an undergraduate student at UM studying Human Biological Sciences. She asked Dr. Fauci about the struggle doctors and medical professionals are having with people being opposed to vaccines, especially in rural places of Montana.
“It's a new vaccine. True, but it has been tested in tens of thousands of people. And it has been shown that it is really quite safe,” Dr. Fauci said. “Another objection is, well, vaccines usually take multiple years to develop. You've done this in less than a year. As I have said before, explain that the speed is due to extraordinary scientific advances, that doesn't compromise safety, nor does it compromise scientific safety."
The second public question came from Shelly Fyant, the Chairwoman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes. She talked about the distrust of the Federal Government that Native people have had in their history as a people, which is making it hard to trust the vaccine coming from Federal Government scientists. Dr. Fauci agreed with her about the mistreatment of Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos and other people of color, bringing up the example of the Tuskegee Experiments on African Americans.
“It would be doubly tragic if on the one hand that Native Americans suffered more during the outbreak. But on the other hand, you do not allow yourself the advance of the one intervention that we know absolutely is life saving,” Dr. Fauci said. “That would be doubly tragic for Native Americans.”
The third public question came from the recently resigned head medical officer of the state of Montana, Greg Holzman. Holzman resigned from his position within the Department of Health and Human Services on Feb. 12. He asked Dr. Fauci about the attrition of health officials at all levels of government, including the loss of people with significant scientific knowledge.
“We need to continue to get more and more people involved in public service that relates to health and science,” Dr. Fauci said. “I think one of the things that is the best seller for that is the extraordinary impact one can have at the government level in making contributions that the benefits of which would be experienced literally by millions of people in the country.”
The final public question was the most emotional. It came from Lisa Beard of Missoula. She is an ER nurse at Community Medical Center, as well as the mom of 7th grader Hudson Beard, who contracted COVID-19 and is still dealing with horrific side effects weeks later. With her question, she wanted to alert people that children are not immune to the virus, and could face serious side effects well after having the virus in their system.
Lisa described her son as an energetic 7th grade soccer player, until he got coronavirus in mid-November. Three months later, she told Dr. Fauci that he still deals with headaches, swollen eyes that prevent him to read and write, difficulty breathing, along with many other symptoms. Hudson, sitting right next to his mom, was the one to ask the question of Dr. Fauci.
“Every day I wake up, I have constant migraines, severe headaches and am super dizzy,” Hudson said. “My stomach hurts, I vomit, my heart races and I can’t read or write. No other doctors can help me. Can you help me?”
Dr. Fauci said, “Hudson, I don’t know if I can help you directly, but I can tell you that your mother is absolutely correct. There has been a misinterpretation that children are completely immune to any serious effects.”
Dr. Fauci went on to talk about how there is potential hope in spontaneous recovery from COVID-19, and how the body’s system can recalibrate and get back to normal.
“I can’t promise you that, but I’m hoping for you, and for other children like you, that this will be an unfortunate, prolongation suffering from the virus, but that might ultimately correct itself,” Dr. Fauci told the young boy.
After the 45-minute conversation ended with Dr. Fauci, Dr. Marshall Bloom joined the Zoom. Bloom is the Director of Science Management at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories, and a great friend of Dr. Fauci for over three decades.
Dr. Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and oversees the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana, all part of the National Institute of Health (NIH).
You can watch the full Zoom video below: