tv National Institutes of Health Director on His Departure Legacy CSPAN December 23, 2021 6:19pm-6:48pm EST
visit our website at studentcam.org. dr. francis collins is the outgoing director of the national institute of health. he joined the washington post for a discussion about the covid-19 pandemic and his retirement from the agency. this is about a half hour. i am really glad to have a chance to talk to you today.
>> we are unrelated i think. >> as far as we know. i am looking forward to talking about your tenure at the home but first, some headlines i want to talk about. omicron is spreading like wildfire. new york reported 18,000 new cases. what is your concern going into the holidays? >> i am concerned because this is a variant that has more than 50 mutations compared to the original virus. it makes it apparently very contagious with this time that you just mentioned, to the four days. we saw that in the u.k. and now we are seeing it in the u.s.. that is much faster than delta which we already thought was very fast. this is going to be the dominant viral strain in the united
states. >> omicron is coming in and then we should add those things. what is your concern about these two things surging together? >> you are right to mention delta because even though we have a lot of focus on the new kid, the old kid is still causing a great deal of trouble in the united states and elsewhere. we are seeing more than 100,000 new cases every day in the u.s. and most of those are delta. we are seeing hospitalizations going up again. we are seeing deaths every day, over 1000 in the united states. those are mostly delta and mostly unvaccinated people which is to say those were potentially preventable. while we know that omicron is incredibly contagious, there is
some suggestion that maybe it is not as severe. let's be clear, that data is kind of early. in terms of the age of our population, we need to be very vigilant in doing everything we can to block the spread of this latest arrival on the scene, omicron. i guess we will come to what we can do about that because i really want to talk about vaccines. >> exactly. you spoke about the importance of butchers in the introduction. i have been hearing from sources that there is this march and then a booster in october. how should we be defining fully vaccinated these days? >> it is a tricky term. it is being used in some instances in terms of whether you lived up to amended by your employer.
the employees here are required to be fully vaccinated but by that definition it means you have two jobs of pfizer, two jobs of the dharna. in terms of protecting yourself, especially against omicron but also delta, it is clear that a booster really revs up your system and gives you that wanted protection. you're not in that safe a position as you could be. people listening to this, if it has been more than six months since you got your modernity and pfizer initial series, sign up right now to get a booster. it will put you in a much better position. the holidays are coming very soon. then you can punch in your zip code and it will tell you what
the nearest places are to you with vaccines ready to go without an appointment >> are you -- appointment. >> are you suggesting they change their social behavior if they have not gotten boosters? >> i think we have to be careful not to let our guard down. especially with omicron being so contagious. i know people are tired of these mitigations. i know people are tired of being told they should be wearing their masks and they are tired of physical distancing but that works and the virus is not tired of us. so yes, yes especially during the holidays. if you are indoors with other people, you should be wearing a mask. especially if the vaccination status is not known. if you are around people who are unvaccinated, you should meet them outside and not inside.
as much as we all want to hug each other at the holidays, this is where that virus likes to take advantage of our nature and it has done so effectively. if we are going to get through this season which is threatening to be pretty dicey, we will all have to double down on those commonsense measures of get your booster. >> a lot are proposing a return to work date. when is your recommendation for getting back to work or re-creating the environments we all miss that are so important? >> we have missed of those things and they are important. some of the things i remember that were most inspiring as a scientist were those
conversations you had in the hallway with another person who just happened to be working in a similar area and then you realize we can put these things together and make big events happen. that is hard to do when we are on a resume cause. i do miss that. for situations like scientists being next to each other, it is kind of electrifying but we should do that safely. we also delayed our plans at nih. we thought people would come back to the workplace in november and then it seemed we were not ready for that. then we had people come back in january and we just delayed that again. it is unclear what the status will be. when people do come back, you want to make sure that you set up the appropriate ways. we are not going to be through this for many months to come.
>> i was covering the cdc decision for a recommendation on the mrna vaccine. for those who defended the one-shot dose, do you worry about the homeless, people in prisons and the international impact this decision could have? >> yes, i do. j&j had this dissident -- had the advantage of being a singer those and not requiring a lot of refrigeration. it seemed like it was ideally suited for hard-to-reach places. it should still have a role there but if you're in a circumstance where all of the things are lined up to be able
to choose, it is clear that the mrna vaccines provide you a high level of protection. there is this rare blood cutting -- blood clotting problem. they did not say don't use j&j, they said if you have the opportunity, you should prefer the mrna vaccine. two of my grandchildren got j&j and i'm glad they did and i am glad they got boosted. >> that is very troubling and i
am not too surprised. look at everything around us you see, particularly in social media, interactions with family and friends, we have fallen into this divisive set of tribal attitudes. much of that does seem to reflect a deep distrust of the government with conspiracies that have no basis in fact but we are in trouble as a society. we seem to have lost our anchor to truth. it depends on which tribe we are in, which information we hear and which information we internalize. oftentimes that information is
not right. you have seen this play out in a way in which life-saving vaccines that were created in record time, the 50 million people who were saying no thanks -- they believe these are not going to be good for them. much of that based on false information. i am sure distrust of government spills over onto. >> you are both a scientist and a man of faith and you have tried to reach out to religious communities. what successes have you seen? are you frustrated by the results? >> it is hard to tell. i have done outreach in the form of podcasts with people like pastor rick warren, frank and
graham, tim keller, tom wright, a lot of efforts being made on the part of leaders in the christian church to convince congregations and pastors who lead them that this is not something to be fearful of. we seem to have a circumstance where politics has gotten all tangled up with these traditions and the politics seem to be more dominant in affecting people's opinions rather than what are the basic foundations of their faith. that is troubling as well. this is something that i hope to continue to be engaged in. this importance of making sure -- a gift from god, a chance to
understand how nature works and using that to help people, it seems like that ought to be celebrated and embraced for a believer. >> i want to ask you about an issue that will continue after your tenure, long covid. $1.15 billion have been invested in investigating long covid. >> i understand their frustration. this is a puzzling and mysterious problem. it must be difficult they after day not having answers about what has happened. this is another big curveball this virus has thrown at us that we did not expect.
we don't know what the basis of that is, is there still a virus lurking in their systems that we had not available to detect? is there a clotting problem? that is what we aim to find out as fast as we can. we lost this major project called recover. it enrolled 40,000 participants. we want to see which of them and up with long covid. is this something we could predict about that? the other half are people who already have long covid. we want to understand everything we can and institute therapies to help them. i know that people are frustrated. i am frustrated as well. but we need answers that will be trustworthy.
the more you look at this, the more you are convinced this is not just one simple thing. this is affecting the brain, people have this brain fog problem, affecting fatigue, affecting the heart and we need to understand long covid if we ever are going to sort it out. >> i would let you talk a little bit more about this issue of speed. you put some effort behind a venture capital style of this. >> when it comes to a severe threat to somebody's health, nobody wants to hear that we are on the slow boat. i don't either. you want to move as fast as you can. you have seen that with covid-19. the dramatic speed with which
the vaccines were developed. for our part we were a big player in that. but also the diagnostic part of this. you mentioned our shark tank. we turned nih into a venture capital organization. we gave them a chance to ramp up what it might have taken five years to do to get it done in a few months. something like 3 million of them are being done today because all of those technologies were given a chance to really scale up. i think there is a lot of other places where nih can do things like that now that we had this experience with covid-19. that is why this has been proposed by the president and strongly supported by myself and others. congress seems very interested in putting money into this.
it would be very fast-moving, very willing to fail and fail quickly and have the kind of opportunity to bring partners together who would never write a grant to nih but may have the technologies. i think we can do a lot with that with the diabetes and cancer. just move this along. >> what kind of timeframe are we working with? >> we were in the middle of fiscal year 2022. the house marked it up at 3 billion. those are substantial numbers for a project just getting started. we will hope that when we get through the current continuing
resolution meaning we want to have a budget until february 18 that some decisions can get made. we are putting all the things in place to make it a rapid launch. >> i would like to ask you another question about long covid if i may. if covid becomes endemic and most of us contract the owners in our future, what is the potential public health burden of having long covid into her future? -- our future? >> it is a cause of great concern. we don't know if this is something that will gradually reset itself or if we have to find a way to intervene by some sort of medical intervention to get them back to normal. then we have to discover what that is. but you are totally right. even if it is only 10% of people
infected that end up with long covid, we cross the line in the united states of 50 million infections. that might mean there are 5 million people out there that have some problems with long covid, some that are still suffering today, that is a big public health issue. we have to do everything we can to get answers here. there are these other long covid conditions. many people who have symptoms that have not gone away postinfection, do you see this 1.1 5 billion as key to unlocking some of the clues to those conditions as well? >> i do. please look at the symptoms people are having with long covid and then compare that to what has been happening with chronic fatigue syndrome, there
is a great deal of similarity. this time we know what the inciting agent was. my hope would be that by figuring it out, we know what starts long covid and then we will be able to extrapolate from that -- we are working on that already. we have not gotten the big answers we need. >> there have been many trials
with vaccines and therapeutics. the other side of public health has struggled a lot. given that you're leaving and you can look from a bird's-eye view at what is going on, how would you rearrange funding to help? >> there is a lot of conversation going on about that right now. we must not let the lessons of covid-19 the lost. some other kind of pathogen, maybe a virus, maybe influenza but there are seven other viral families that are highly likely. this is something we can organize even more so by having a plan to do vaccine generation
and antiviral drug development system desperately needs to be upgraded in terms of support of the state health departments. a lot of them have been underfunded and understaffed for way too long. the cdc is struggling with that. they are dependent on the states for a lot of data gathering and they are stressed and understaffed and oftentimes still working with technologies that might have been appropriate a decade ago. now they are not quiet up to the task. this needs to be a real red -- real reset button for the whole system. >> we often have reader questions. i talked to your colleague and friend, dr. anthony fauci.
he emphasized to me what enormous contributions you have to give to policy and global health going ahead. you said you will go back to your lab. what other contributions will you continue to make as the head? >> i am not surprised that tony has put the question forward. he has to me. i need to be careful. stepping down -- i don't want there to be any confusion about who is running the place. if i am going to get engaged in a specific topic, i will need to make it clear i am not doing it as a consultant or in intramural
scientist who has a particular point of view or contribution to make. but tony is right that i have a deep passion for global health. i think there is a lot of things that are going on their that are relevant to what my own research will be involving. i suspect i will continue to the extent that i can be useful to take part in some of those discussions about how we can do a better job of building up the capacity of research in low and middle income countries. going from a donors to ownership, giving wonderful scientists a chance to chart their own future. that is something that i have been pretty passionate about. >> you said goodbye in an unusual way at a farewell event. let's take a listen.
i think i will go there. >> you don't have your guitar in hand but can you give us a line or two from it? >> it is just the last course. >> thank you very much for your leadership through these hard times. >> it is an honor to be able to serve. it is a public service job but it is also incredibly exciting. in no coffee and that they will run the place in an incredibly visionary way. i am not worried about stepping away.
nih is in a great place. >> what makes you optimistic? >> i am optimistic about science finding answers. we are on a roll. science is like moving at a pace i did not think possible during the early part of my career. and his coat -- discoveries that have profound consequences. look at what we are doing with immunotherapy, curing kids with sickle cell disease. they are now not just better but things like that are just exhilarating. that makes me optimistic. i am optimistic that despite the terrible divisions, the next generation is not going to find this very appealing. they will figure out how to fix it. >> thank you for sharing this with us today.
>> that is all we have time for. many more questions we could have asked. happy holidays. we will be back in 2022. if you want to check in on our programming, go to washington live.com. >> this is c-span's online store, browse through our collection of c-span products, apparel, books and accessories. this is something for every c-span fan. shop now at c-spanshop.org. >> white house press secretary jen psaki held her last press