Q&A: ‘We can’t let our guard down,’ Fauci says

Coronavirus

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president, testifies before a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the federal response to COVID-19 and new emerging variants, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

(NewsNation) — Two weeks after Dr. Anthony Fauci said the U.S. was out of the “full-blown explosive pandemic phase,” he warned Americans not to let their guards down just yet.

Fauci joined NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” on Thursday to answer questions about the state of the pandemic and the precautions he said people should continue taking.

Below is a transcript of the conversation, edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: What phase are we in right now?

Fauci: Well, first of all, it’s important to point out that the pandemic is not over. We are still having a pandemic. The cases came down from what I referred to as that explosive phase, where we were having 900,000 cases a day and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and over 3,000 deaths per day.

We’re much lower than that right now but we are creeping up again and that’s one of the concerns that we have — that as we start to creep up with cases and hospitalizations … it’s going in the wrong direction and therefore, we can’t let our guard down, which is the reason why we continue to emphasize to people that if you’ve not been vaccinated, then get vaccinated, and if you are vaccinated, make sure you get your booster shot when it becomes available to you in the time from your primary vaccination.

Q: What’s your recommendation when it comes to boosters?

Fauci: If you’ve gotten the mRNA vaccine, that’s two doses, everybody should get the third-dose boost. That’s it. Everybody with no exceptions there. The question is, what about the third, the fourth shot or the second boost? Right now, as we know, some time ago, the FDA and the CDC said that people 50 years of age or older are eligible, and particularly those who are elderly are recommended to get it and certainly those with underlying conditions. So that stands and I would recommend that if people are in those categories, they do get boosted.

The real question that the FDA is now seriously considering and we’re getting data to help inform us to make the right choice is that as we get into the early fall, we’re going to be making a decision this summer, about which of the boosters should we be giving. Should we be giving a booster of the original vaccine or should we give a hybrid or what’s called a bivalence, namely, a boost that contains more than one of the variants that we’ve been involved with? … And I wouldn’t be surprised that you’ll be hearing about getting a booster as we get into the early fall very similar to what we do with influenza when we try to get people vaccinated by the middle or end of October.

Q: If the case numbers keep going up, do you think people will be willing to go back to wearing masks again?

Fauci: It’s a very, very charged and sensitive area when you use the word “mandate.” It creates a lot of difficulty. One thing I could say for sure, is that if cases go up, you would recommend that people actually do put a mask on when they’re in indoor congregate settings, whether or not it’s mandated. It makes good public health common sense that if you have a big outbreak of infections in your community, and you see that happening around you, that when you get into an indoor setting, you use some common sense and wear a mask.

Q: Is that the difference of maybe saying recommend, versus mandates, where people feel like they’re being forced to do something?

Fauci: I think that’s a very, very good point. And that’s the reason why I try to stay away from the word “mandate.” You use the word “mandate,” and you immediately trigger an almost radioactive reaction. People say you’re trying to force them what to do. I take a different approach. I say, what kind of risk are you willing to take? But particularly if you’re an elderly person, or a person who has an underlying condition — or even if you’re very healthy but you live in a household with someone who is vulnerable to a severe outcome, (and) if you get infected, even though you don’t get a severe outcome yourself, you bring the infection home, that might create a serious difficulty for someone that you care about.

I would recommend if that’s the situation with you, that you do wear a mask when you’re indoors, I don’t use the word mandate. I say it might be common sense to do that.

Q: Do you see yourself doing this job at this time next year?

Fauci: I don’t know. I’d have to be perfectly honest with you right now. I’m focusing on the challenge at hand, which is to make sure that we protect as many people as we possibly can. I don’t think about what you just said. I mean, someday I will, but I’m not doing it at this moment.

Q: Is this really something we just have to live with? The case numbers going up, the case numbers going down — that’s just kind of the way of life at this point?

I think the answer to that is probably yes. And the reason I say that is, you know, we’re not going to eradicate this the way we did with smallpox. We only eradicated one virus in all of public health history. And we did that with a virus that didn’t change much and that we had a very, very good duration of immunity, either from infection or vaccination.

I don’t even think we’re going to eliminate it from the country the way we did with measles and polio because, again, those viruses did not change. You didn’t get a lot of variants with measles and with polio. And the protection that was given by vaccine and by infection was virtually lifelong. We don’t have that with COVID. We have a virus that has very instant changes, and that the durability of immunity is not indefinite.

So I think we can and I think it’s perfectly feasible that we will be able to bring it to a low enough level that it won’t interfere with us from a social-societal standpoint. It won’t interfere with the jobs, with school, with employment, with doing entertainment things indoors. We will have to live with it because it’s not going to disappear.

Hopefully, we’ll live with that at a level that’s very, very low and that you don’t see a lot of morbidity and mortality.

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