In so many ways, the year 2020 has been defined by the Covid-19 pandemic. This is especially true for Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading expert on infectious diseases and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
Looking back on the year, Fauci shared the accomplishment that he's most proud of during an interview with the Center for Strategic and International Studies Commission on Monday.
"I think the proudest moment would be the fact that we have successfully done what people would find to be the unimaginable," Fauci told J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president and director of CSIS Global Health Policy Center.
When the coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late 2019, it was "brand new," Fauci said. But by January 2020, scientists were able to sequence the entire novel virus, a crucial step in developing a vaccine. And on Monday, less than a year later, the United States administered the first shots of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine, which was approved for emergency use.
"That is a historic, unprecedented achievement," Fauci said. Vaccines typically take 10 to 15 years to develop, but the initiative "Operation Warp Speed" allowed American businesses, scientists, the federal government and the military to collaborate and accelerate the process. (Though Pfizer and BioNTech did not take government funds to research and develop its Covid vaccine, only to manufacture and deliver it.)
Fauci said he feels proud "that we played a significant role in the actual success and development of that vaccine," he said.
That said, the year was also full of dark moments, particularly for people on the front lines fighting the pandemic.
The U.S. is recording at least 213,700 new Covid-19 cases and at least 2,400 virus-related deaths each day, based on Johns Hopkins University data. January is projected to be the worst month yet, and cases are expected to peak. The U.S. death toll topped 300,000 on Monday.
Fauci said that the "extraordinary burden of disease and death in this country" represent his darkest moments of the year.
"Those are the things that, as a physician scientist and a public health official, are very painful," he said.
The numbers and "the enormity of the problem, it just can actually overwhelm you," Fauci told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta during a panel Wednesday.
Focusing on the problem at hand, ending the pandemic, is how Fauci stays motivated. "I focus like a laser on what I need to do," Fauci said Monday.