IT is one of the more bizarre features of this pandemic that scientists and other experts have become household names and faces. Just as politicians have “followed the science”, so various hitherto unknown specialists have acquired followings of their own.

Who would have thought, for example, that the Scottish Government’s National Clinical Director, Professor Jason Leitch, would have become a regular on Off the Ball with Tam Cowan and Stuart Cosgrove?

Or that the nation would play “name that flower” whenever Professor Linda Bauld of Edinburgh University appeared in her Zoom room?

The attention can have its downsides, as Prof Leitch discovered last week when his “get ready for a digital Christmas” message found him mocked up in some newspapers as the Grinch.

To be fair, the papers were acting partly on the suggestion of the First Minister, who later felt the need to assure children that Santa was in fact a “key worker” and would be going about his present distribution business as usual. Santa, like Amazon and the mail, must get through.

Profs Bauld and Leitch, and their counterparts in other countries, can only imagine the heights of fame attained by one of the guests on The Andrew Marr Show. Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US and part of the White House coronavirus taskforce, is as close to a rock star among experts as it is possible to become.

In fact, make that a movie star. Brad Pitt, no less, earned an Emmy nomination for playing the Brooklyn-born and accented doctor on Saturday Night Live (“First I’d like to thank all the older women in America who have sent me supportive, inspiring, and sometimes graphic emails”).

With just ten days to go till the US presidential election, it was a minor coup for Marr to land the interview. It was particularly fortuitous given the Government minister for the Sunday shows was Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, whose reputation for being a safe pair of hands –media translation: dull – only grows with time.

Mr Lewis did, however, stand by the UK Government’s refusal to provide free meals during the holidays to the poorest children in England, a controversial move that is sure to keep the subject on the boil until another Labour-led vote in the Commons today.

So to Dr Fauci. Marr began by asking why the US and the UK had been hit so badly by coronavirus. In America, said Dr Fauci, there had been inconsistency among the states in abiding by the guidelines, either during lockdown or when it was eased.

Dr Fauci added he was “sorry to see” that in the UK “after getting hit pretty badly the way we did, you went down to a pretty low level, but now you’re starting to escalate in the same manner that we are here”.

During the final televised debate last Thursday, President Trump said there would be a vaccine by the end of the year. True?

“We will know whether a vaccine is safe and effective by the end of November, the beginning of December,” said Dr Fauci.

“But the question is, once you have a safe and effective vaccine, or more than one, how can you get it to the people who need it as quickly as possible?

“The amount of doses that will be available in December will not certainly be enough to vaccinate everybody, you’ll have to wait several months into 2021.”

He said healthcare workers will likely be prioritised first for any vaccine, as well as people considered at increased risk of complications.

Vaccinating a substantial proportion of the population, enough to make an impact, might not be possible until the second or third quarter of 2021.

A vaccine alone would not return the country to some form of normality, and would have to be combined with public health measures, he added.

Much depended on how many people take the vaccine. It was very important that politicians set an example and backed the science, he said.

“People look at what their leaders say and do, and you can positively or negatively influence behaviour.

“It would really be a shame if we have a safe and effective vaccine, but a substantial proportion of the people do not want to take the vaccine because they don’t trust authority.”

Most recently, President Trump called the good doctor an “idiot” and a “disaster”. How did that make you feel, asked Marr.

Dr Fauci has served every president from Ronald Reagan onwards without ever attracting such criticism. To generations of Americans he is as familiar and friendly a face as their own doctor.

Unsurprisingly, Mr Trump’s jibes did not faze the physician. “I focus on what I feel is the most important mission - to preserve the health, the safety and the welfare of the American people directly, and indirectly for the entire world including the UK, by some of the things we do here.”

Those other things were just “distractions” he said. “I don’t take that personally, I just do my job.”