She is little known to the general public. The face of Brigitte Autran should however become more and more familiar in the coming months. This 68-year-old immunologist, specialist in HIV, will chair the “committee for monitoring and anticipating health risks”, successor to the Scientific Council. “Brigitte Autran is appointed president of the committee for monitoring and anticipating health risks”, can we read in the decree published this Wednesday, August 17 in the Official Journal (JO).
This committee, created this summer, succeeds, with a broader aim, the Scientific Council created in 2020 to guide the action of the French government in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. This Scientific Council, which was chaired by Professor Jean-François Delfraissy, ceased to exist with the lifting of the state of health emergency at the end of last July.
His successor will be responsible for keeping a watch on all health risks, with particular attention to the consequences of global warming as well as the interactions between animals and humans. This global vision, described as “one health” by its promoters, is increasingly defended by a number of public health specialists. “The committee will look at what is happening elsewhere, synthesize, model the risks that may arise from it for ourselves”, explains Brigitte Autran in an interview with Le Parisien, recalling that “diseases can be transmitted from animal to man, or vice versa or even boomerang back from one to the other”.
Brigitte Autran was the first intern in France to be confronted with a patient with AIDS, in 1981, at the Bichat-Claude-Bernard hospital, where she was then an intern in the infectiology department. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” she told Têtu magazine in 2020. It was a colleague who informed her: her service had just welcomed a man whose characteristics resembled the five cases that are making headlines in the United States. “At that point, we are completely in the dark. We don’t even know it’s a virus. We are simply faced with a patient who suffers from a brain abscess and who is extremely thin”, who will be the first Frenchman to die of AIDS.
Brigitte Autran, whose research has mainly concerned AIDS, says she is “overwhelmed” by this experience which has influenced her entire career. Recognized internationally for her work on triple therapies, this Emeritus Professor of Immunology at the Sorbonne University Faculty of Medicine is also an expert in vaccines. She thus worked in the Orientation Council for the vaccine strategy against Sars-Cov 2. She also developed research on the immunology of vaccines, in particular therapeutic anti-HIV vaccines, and other vaccines particularly in subjects immunocompromised, can we read in his biography on the site of the Ministry of Health. She has also served for a long time on the Technical Committee on Vaccines (CTV) of the Ministry of Health and on the Global Vaccine Safety Committee (GACVS) of the WHO. “When you are vaccinated, you feel free. Not only do you protect yourself, but you protect others,” she said in June 2021. She also coordinated the monoclonal antibody group at the ANRS / MIE national agency (Emerging Infectious Diseases).
The immunologist intends to compose the team of the “committee for monitoring and anticipating health risks” by the start of the school year. This committee must include sixteen scientists whom she wants to be “indisputable” and “collegial”, as well as a representative of the citizens and one of the patients. Members will be appointed for a two-year term, renewable once.
Its mission will be to “guide the actions of the government on scientific bases”, advances Brigitte Autran to Parisian. She also wants to “be one step ahead” both in terms of “permanent monitoring of the risks that may emanate from France and other countries” and in “organization in the event of new crises”. This involves, for example, “the immediate establishment of a task force of scientific expertise and the establishment of rapid recommendations”.
For the president of the “health risk watch and anticipation committee”, the Covid-19 pandemic, in decline in France this summer, is not over. “The most likely scenario is that of an epidemic peak at the start of the school year (…) It is almost certain that there will be a wave in the fall”, she warns. Brigitte Autran also differentiated the fight against Covid, in which it seems illusory to completely eliminate the circulation of the virus, from that against monkey pox, or “Monkeypox”. “A ‘zero Monkeypox’ strategy is possible, unlike that of ‘zero Covid'”, she assured, calling for the acceleration of vaccination campaigns. “By its nature, its routes of transmission, it is a virus that can be controlled.”