When America’s preeminent infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, was in medical school he never imagined that his work would one day lead to calls for him to be beheaded.

Key points:Dr Fauci said controlling America’s worsening coronavirus outbreak was not impossible but becoming more and more difficult He said lockdowns should only be a last resort But he was hopeful a substantial proportion of the US population would be vaccinated by May next year

Dr Fauci, who has headed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, told 7.30’s Leigh Sales working with the Trump administration on the coronavirus pandemic had “obviously been very stressful”.

“I mean, it’s just, to deny that would be to deny reality,” he said.

“When you have public figures like [former Trump advisor Steve] Bannon calling for your beheading. That’s really kind of unusual.

“That’s not the kind of thing you think about when you’re going through medical school to become a physician.”

Dr Fauci has found himself in the firing line despite his best efforts to remain non-political.

He said he had managed through it all by focusing “like a laser beam” on his goal as a scientist and physician to develop vaccines.

“If you focus on that, and don’t get distracted by all the other noise, then it’s not as bad as you might think it is.

“It’s meaningless, you know, people calling for you to be beheaded, fired, thrown in the fire pit or whatever.

“That’s just noise. You don’t pay attention to that.”

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He has not been dealing directly with President Donald Trump recently, instead going through Vice-President Mike Pence who chairs the White House’s coronavirus task force.

“So there’s a line of communication from the task force to the Vice-President and from the Vice-President to the President,” he said.

No telling what final toll from coronavirus will beSpace to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume. There were mass burials on New York’s Hart Island as the pandemic took hold earlier in the year.

Dr Fauci said it was difficult to estimate what the final death toll in the US would be.

More than 230,000 people have already died and that figure is rising by about 30,000 per month at the moment.

The US reported a new record for new cases recorded in a single day on Tuesday with more than 134,000.

“Every day, we seem to be setting another record for the number of cases,” Dr Fauci said.

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America’s worsening coronavirus outbreak was not impossible to get under control, he said, but the task was becoming more difficult as the number of cases grew.

He said that contact tracing was becoming more and more difficult and the only option was to turn to mass surveillance testing.

“Not just testing people who are symptomatic, but testing society in general, to get a feel for what the penetration of asymptomatic transmission is,” he said.

“When you do that, you can then get people out of circulation who are infected to prevent them from infecting others.”

‘I don’t think you need to lock down’ Many Americans have objected to governments implementing coronavirus restrictions.(AP: Evan Frost)

In his view, lockdowns should only be the last resort and used when there was no other choice because of “COVID-19 fatigue”.

“I don’t think [a lockdown] would be well received,” he said.

“I don’t think you need to lock down. I think people have a misperception that when you say, ‘wear masks, avoid crowds, keep your distance’, that that means locking down, it doesn’t.

“You can keep small and large businesses open, so long as you implement certain fundamental public health practices.”

He said Australia was an example of a successful lockdown.

“They locked down for a period of time, they got down to zero, and now they’re at a very, very good baseline, which means … that it’s much easier to identify, isolate and contact trace when you start off with virtually no infections in your population.”

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Dr Fauci said he had yet to meet with the incoming Biden administration.

“Right now, the situation, as you will know, is a rather tense situation in the United States regarding transitions. So, right now, things are on hold for the time being.”

However, he did say he would like Joe Biden’s COVID-19 task force to implement a uniform strategy “across our very large and somewhat disparate country” focusing on universal wearing of masks, physical distancing, hand-washing, avoiding crowds and encouraging people to do more outdoors than indoors.

Vaccine rollout to begin next month Pfizer says its coronavirus vaccine could be 90 per cent effective.(Pexels: Polina Tankilevitch)

Looking to the future, Dr Fauci was optimistic about the potential of the vaccine candidates set to be rolled out.

The US Government plans to begin vaccinating Americans in December, as long as Pfizer submits the positive initial data from its COVID-19 vaccine trial to health regulators as quickly as expected.

High-priority groups are likely to be the first to receive the vaccine.

Dr Fauci expected vaccinations would gradually ramp up over January to April with a substantial proportion of people vaccinated by the beginning of May.

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While US health authorities had dealt with scepticism around vaccines in the past, the expected high degree of efficacy and lack of safety problems of the Pfizer vaccine would hopefully overcome any hesitancy, he said.

“Hopefully we’ll get many, many more people than you would have predicted vaccinated,” he said.

He added that it was important to note that another vaccine candidate, from Moderna, was likely to be available soon as well.

“So that will be a good addition to the supply that will be able to be utilised,” he said.

How long it would take to get to a “COVID-normal” existence would depend on how well the vaccines worked and how many people got vaccinated, he said.

“Once you get most of the country vaccinated, then the degree of infection in the country will be very low and you could get back to some sort of normality,” he said.

“The way I see in the pictures of Australians sitting on the beach, relaxing, enjoying the sun. That’s what we would love to see here in the United States.”

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