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Fred Hutch doctor outlines lessons learned during COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Larry Corey is a close friend and colleague of Dr. Anthony Fauci.

SEATTLE — Dr. Larry Corey with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle has been a key player in the effort to shepherd the COVID-19 vaccine to Americans during the pandemic.

Corey's long-time friendship with colleague Dr. Anthony Fauci has also made him a high-profile figure in the U.S.

KING 5's Jake Whittenberg had a chance to sit down with Corey for an update. The two went on a bike ride.

Here is a portion of their conversation.

Whittenberg: As we sit here now, do you feel like you can kind of relax a little bit based on what we've been through?

Corey: Well, there's a sense of satisfaction of having, getting us through the epidemic, sort of with amazing speed and that the vaccination has saved millions of lives. But you know, we all underestimated the virus. This one actually picked up its infectivity. And it was like, "oh no," And so now I look at it saying, well, we got vaccines that help but they're not as good as they used to be.

Whittenberg: Not as good as they used to be?

Corey: Well, when they match the strain, we got those 95% (effective) numbers. I truly believe the vaccines could do better. Second-generation vaccines could do better and we need to make and we should make the investment.

Whittenberg: I get the feeling that a lot of people think the punishment, if you will, in society, outweighs the dangers of this current strain. People seem to feel that way. Am I crazy?

Corey: You're not crazy. I think we have got to learn to live with a virus. Okay. We have the tools to learn to live with the virus. We are social beings. I've seen it in my own family. My kids really had grandkids had a really hard time. But I think science can still lead us out.

Whittenberg: I was surprised to see the CDC director say they sort of botched the COVID response. What do you think?

Corey: Well, I give Director Rochelle Walensky, a lot of credit for being brave. You got to tell the truth. I grew up with the CDC, it started my career in virology. But there are things there is information withholding, there are just things that went on that were not as transparent as they should have been.

Whittenberg: At times, it felt like one thing was right one day. Then the same thing was wrong the next day.

Corey: People don't necessarily like change and it's hard to explain change. You know, I do think we were slow. Even Tony (Fauci) was slow to pick up that there was subclinical transmission. And you couldn't have had this widespread dissemination out of Wuhan to the entire world in four weeks if there weren't asymptomatic carriers. And the entire early response was really sort of off mark.

Explaining that is sort of like well, you said, you know, you didn't need a mask? Well, yeah, it turns out, we did need a mask. And even when you got vaccinated then was the issue was "now you're telling me I need a mask, even though I got vaccinated?"

Well, the virus had changed.

Whittenberg: It felt to me like there were a lot of scientists, that said, "this is the way it is and your way is not right."

Corey: I think that's very well put, I think in science, sometimes we feel like, you know, this issue that this is the way it needs to be you're the expert. And I think we've learned that you know, just like there's variability in biology, there's variability in health beliefs and variability in society. And I guess, I would also say "thank God" for that.

We haven't learned how to sort of explain and get people to understand that there's not a constancy in science, especially in biology.

I actually hope that science has become more fascinating to people out of COVID. We need more scientists in Congress. We need more scientists to fund science.

Whittenberg: What needs to happen right now, that isn't happening, to make sure that we're not just going to see (COVID-19) explode in the Fall and cause us to fall way behind.

Corey: The government should invest $4-5 billion to get us these next-generation vaccines that prevent us from getting it in the first place. Whether that's dripping it in the nose or shooting it in your arm.  I think that's what we need.

Whittenberg: Dr. Fauci. Tony as you call him, announced he's retiring. What about Dr. Corey?

Corey: Dr. Corey likes what he's doing. The people in the United States invested in me and especially the people of state of Washington. When I started the virology division at the University of Washington, we hope we have returned that investment to them. Sometimes on Sundays. I think we have.

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