In this file photo, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, speaks during an unscheduled briefing after a Coronavirus Task Force meeting at the White House in Washington, DC. - AFP

WASHINGTON: The United States' top infectious disease official Anthony Fauci has said he has always known President-elect Joe Biden as someone "attuned to following science" and expects the incoming administration will be guided by evidence.

The widely respected physician and scientist, who has been named as Biden's chief medical advisor on COVID-19, also praised the work of the Trump administration in delivering on its vaccine promises. Asked by AFP how things might change when Biden takes office on January 20, he said: "I know that they are very closely wedded to following the science.

"That has been something that President-elect Biden has done from when I knew him during the Obama administration, when he was the vice president of the United States. "He is very much attuned to following science and scientific data and scientific evidence. So I would imagine that the plan, as it proceeds with the new administration, would be very much steeped in science."

Praise for vaccine program
President Donald Trump has been panned by the scientific community for his inconsistent messaging on public health measures such as masking and social distancing, and has led several super spreader events himself. The outgoing leader has also frequently criticized Fauci and publicly toyed with the idea he might fire him.

Fauci, for his part, has remained non-partisan and diplomatic, a skill he has honed serving under six presidents while leading the country's response to every disease outbreak since 1984. The 79-year-old praised "Operation Warp Speed," the more than $11 billion US program for expedited COVID vaccine and treatment development. "Operation Warp Speed has been very successful," he said, "and I'm certain that we will continue the pathway of Operation Warp Speed.

"I think, in credit to what has gone on in the current administration, I think that is a quite successful endeavor. "I mean, to come up with a vaccine that is ready for distribution in less than a year, from the time the virus was identified is really an unprecedented speed."

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already been green lighted in Britain and several other countries, is expected to receive emergency approval in the United States imminently after an expert committee voted in its favor. A second vaccine, developed by Moderna and the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, which Fauci heads, could be approved next week, and the US hopes to use both to immunize 20 million people this month. Vaccines by other makers could soon follow, including some based on technologies that do not require the extreme cold storage that the two frontrunner messenger RNA vaccines need. This would make them more suitable for developing countries.

'Engage the community'
Fauci said the major challenge now was to make sure sufficient people were confident enough to get injected, so that a population immunity level of 70-75 percent could be achieved. "We need to engage the community, go out and explain to people why the process for the development of these vaccines was a sound, scientific process, and that they are safe, and they are highly effective," he said.

"Those decisions were made by independent bodies without any political or other influence. That is the truth, and the facts. "We've got to make sure we communicate that clearly to people not only in the United States, but throughout the world." - AFP