Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan honored Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), with a special award at a ceremony held Sunday in Washington, DC.
Fauci, who served as chief medical adviser to US President Joe Biden from 2021 to 2022, was given the Champion of Global Human Health Award in recognition of the help he gave Israel during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also for signing — on behalf of NIAID and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — a memorandum of understanding with Sheba to establish the Sheba Pandemic Preparedness Research Institute (SPRI) as one of his final major acts in office. Fauci, 82, stepped down from the role on December 31, 2022.
“Dr. Fauci is a leader, dealing with decisions from politicians and governments. And we look up to you from the State of Israel. Everything you’ve done in the United States had a major global impact all over the world, especially with us,” said Sheba director Prof. Yitshak Kreiss as he handed Fauci the award.
Launched in December 2022, SPRI is focused on quickly identifying new pathogens and creating tools, such as vaccines and monoclonal antibody therapies, to prevent or mitigate future epidemics and pandemics. The partnership involves the use of NIH-developed scientific methods in combination with Sheba’s extraordinary bank of blood samples.
Before COVID reached Israel, Sheba began drawing and cataloging blood samples from its 10,000 staff members. As the pandemic progressed, the hospital continued to draw blood samples and compile data. The careful tracking and curating of the demographic and COVID illness and vaccination information of the sample providers were highly valuable to the NIH and global COVID research and response.
At a press conference associated with the award ceremony, Fauci said that it was through serendipity that he had learned of Sheba’s unique COVID blood sample bank. An NIH scientist was on sabbatical at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot and while there, he decided to switch his research from HIV to COVID and learned from Israeli colleagues about Sheba’s blood sample bank. The data from the blood samples provided real-time information needed by Fauci and his team in Washington.
“Within a day or two, we began a series of Zoom conferences in which we learned from our colleagues at Sheba things that were not available to us at the time. We were able to make policy decisions about how we would handle vaccinations, boosters and things like that based on the real-time data we were getting from Israel, primarily from Sheba,” Fauci said.
“Israel did as much for the US as the US did for Israel during COVID. The collaboration that we developed was beneficial to Israel and highly beneficial to the United States. During the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic, what we desperately needed was data in real-time as to the evolution of the virus, the variants that were there, the impact or not of vaccinations including boosters, the impact of immunity, and how long it lasts. Unfortunately, because of the fractured healthcare system that we have in [the US], unlike what Sheba and Israel have, we did not have that capability, and that was very disturbing,” he said.
SPRI is up and running. Its cell library has been set up and the NIH typing system is in place and being employed for testing and evaluating. Communications and other systems will be expanded to surveil news reports and information identified by public health authorities around the world so that the institute can move quickly against a potential pathogenic threat.
Dr. Daniel Douek, chief of the human immunology section at NIAID and senior scientific adviser for the SPRI, said: “I am thrilled to see Dr. Fauci honored by the State of Israel. His leadership forged a partnership with Israel’s top medical center that saved lives in the past few years and, perhaps most importantly, establishes the basis for preparing the world for the next pandemic through a partnership unlike any other.”