The highly contagious delta variant accounts for more than 51 percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. With some breakthrough infections now occurring in fully vaccinated people, health officials are assessing a timeline for booster shots and new vaccines. Francis S. Collins, MD, director of the National Institutes of Health, joins Washington Post senior writer Frances Stead Sellers for a conversation focused on where we are in the pandemic – from vaccines and variants to therapeutics and treating long-haul symptoms. He’ll also assess what more can be done to vaccinate the globe.

Highlights

Francis Collins, MD, director of the National Institutes of Health, says the Olympics will have to be “watched with great care” following news that a U.S. gymnastics athlete tested positive for covid-19. When Collins was asked about the risk of the Olympics becoming a super spreader event, he said “I think everybody is worried about that. With people coming from all over the world, some which are place that don’t have access to vaccines yet…obviously, this has got to be watched with great care.” (Washington Post Live)
Francis Collins, MD, director of the National Institutes of Health, says it’s impossible for the CDC to come up with indoor mask guidance that applies everywhere, given the different circumstances across the country. “When they made their recommendation about it being safe to take masks off if you’re fully vaccinated, including indoors, that was before the delta variant began to appear and before we realized how much of a hesitancy problem was going to exist in some parts of the country.” (Washington Post Live)
Francis Collins, MD, director of the National Institutes of Health, says he thinks Pfizer jumped the gun by announcing their plans to file for approval of a booster shot, explaining that it’s not needed at this time and no one knows when it will be. “Nobody really knows about whether booster shots will be needed. At the present time, I think it’s fair to say they are not needed. But when you look ahead going down the next 6 or 12 months, you have to consider that, that might be necessary.” (Washington Post Live)
Francis Collins, MD, director of the National Institutes of Health, says he, like many other public health officials, has been threatened. “It’s not been serious enough so far for me to require the same kind of 24-hour security detail that Dr. Fauci requires…Those who are doing so really ought to stop and ask yourselves, ‘What am I doing here? Why is this the right thing to do?’ Why have we gotten to the point in this country where that seems to be such a compelling reaction to a public health crisis that has taken 608,000 lives.” (Washington Post Live)

Francis S. Collins, MD

Provided by the National Institutes of Health.

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. was appointed the 16th Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate. He was sworn in on August 17, 2009. In 2017, President Donald Trump asked Dr. Collins to continue to serve as the NIH Director. President Joe Biden did the same in 2021. Dr. Collins is the only Presidentially appointed NIH Director to serve more than one administration. In this role, Dr. Collins oversees the work of the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world, spanning the spectrum from basic to clinical research.

Dr. Collins is a physician-geneticist noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the international Human Genome Project, which culminated in April 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book. He served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH from 1993-2008.

Dr. Collins is an elected member of both the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2007, and received the National Medal of Science in 2009. In 2020, he was elected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (UK) and was also named the 50th winner of the Templeton Prize, which celebrates scientific and spiritual curiosity.