MEMPHIS, Tenn. — WREG’s Greg Hurst got a chance to speak with Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s leading experts on the coronavirus, and ask him his take on how we’ve handled the pandemic so far.
Fauci: “As a country, we’ve done really quite well and I think we should be proud of the president’s program of implementing vaccine. We now have more than 50% of the general population of adults who are fully vaccinated — that’s 18 and older. We have about 66-67% of the adult population who have received one dose — but importantly, we have people who are elderly that about 80% of them or more have received at least one dose. And deaths among the more vulnerable — particularly the elderly – is dramatically down about 90% since the president was inaugurated in January.
“So, the program has really done very well. What our concern is that, Greg, there is unevenness in the acceptance and implementation of vaccines. For example, we have some states, cities and counties where the level of vaccination is about 30 to 35%. That is not acceptable, Greg — because the reason that it is not — is that when you have a level of vaccine so low — then you have the danger of seeing the kinds of what we call mini-surges — not a nationwide surge — but a regional surge. That’s one of the things we want to avoid — because that would mean that illnesses and likely hospitalizations — particularly in vulnerable people — that are completely avoidable and preventable are going to happen.
“That’s the reason why the administration is doing everything we can by getting units out there, you know, helping teams come by, getting vaccines in pharmacies — getting it to the barber shop, beauty salon areas to get people educated — answering the questions — because many people are not getting vaccinated because they really need more information. So, the two things you want to do — is you want to get more information to them — but you want to make it really easy for them to get vaccinated when you do convince them to get vaccinated. So it’s really an all-out effort on the part of so many people — to try and see if we can get those numbers up.”
Greg: “Sure — And we are heading into one of the busiest weekends of the year — too late I guess for people to get vaccinated before big barbecues — but what are your recommendations for big get-togethers this weekend? Does it come down to the haves and the have nots — those who have been vaccinated and those who have not?”
Fauci: “Well, in some respects, yes. I don’t like to say haves and have nots — it has a negative connotation to it — but if you are fully vaccinated, you have a high degree of protection. We know that for sure, including against the Delta variant.
“So that’s the reason why you know, as the president says, get out there, enjoy the holiday, celebrate a very important part of our history in the celebration of our independence. And you do not need to wear a mask — either indoor or outdoor. If you are not vaccinated and you are in situations where you are indoors or you have congregate settings that you can’t avoid with a lot of crowded people — it is recommended that you do wear a mask.
“The easiest way to get away from wearing a mask as you’ve said is to get vaccinated. But for the holiday situation, you should try as best as you can — if you are vaccinated, just enjoy yourself. If you’re not in an appropriate setting according to the CDC recommendations, you should wear a mask — particularly if you’re indoors.”
Greg: “You mentioned the Delta variant. There’s been a lot of talk about that lately. Why are you so worried about this now — when infections and hospitalizations are very near pandemic lows?”
Fauci: “Yeah, that’s the reason, because we want them to stay at pandemic lows. One of the things about the Delta variant we know for sure — this isn’t guessing — we know for sure — it transmits more efficiently from person to person and it has the capability of causing more severe illness than the vaccines — excuse me, the viruses that had been circulating earlier on.
“Right now, the Delta variant is so efficient in spreading from person to person that if left to it’s own devices, it will progressively push out and replace the less transmissible variants. That’s happened in England where they had the 117 variant – which was dominant in England – then along came the Delta variant and just pushed it right off the chart – and now more than 90% of the variants in the UK. In the United States, it’s about 26%.
“Greg, we don’t want it to get any more than that because it’s a particularly nasty variant and that’s the reason why we’re pushing so hard to get people vaccinated because the vaccines do quite well. They are highly protective — nothing is 100% – we know that – but it is really really quite good and if you are vaccinated, you have a high degree of protection even against the Delta variant.”
Greg: “As you know, young people seem to be the holdouts here. Why do you find so many of them questioning the science and reluctant to get vaccinated?”
Fauci: “Well, you know, young people are often very difficult to convince to do things that they don’t want people telling them to do. But one of the things that young people need to realize is that this virus, because of its high efficiency of transmissibility, is particularly involving younger people more than we’ve seen in the past. So for one reason or the other, younger people are getting infected with this — and some of those young people are getting seriously ill. The idea that you are exempt from a serious outcome — because of your youth and your seemingly underlying health — is being proven not to be the case.
“To be perfectly transparent, it is true that younger people have a much less likelihood of having a severe outcome than someone who is elderly, who has an underlying condition. But young people – even when they get mild symptoms – can have something called long COVID. What long COVID means, Greg, is that you can get infected and then after you recover from the virus, you have the persistance of symptoms that could go on and be very troublesome to you for weeks — if not months. No young person wants that because it will interfere with your style of life. The other thing — is that even if you get infected and have no symptoms, you could be passing the virus inadvertently and innocently to someone who could get into trouble – like an elderly person, could be someone in your own family, could be a friend, could be someone with an underlying condition…
“So even though you’re a young, healthy person and think that it doesn’t matter to me because the likelihood is that I’m not going to get a serious outcome — don’t only think in terms of yourself. Because you don’t want to be the vehicle for the spread of virus and that’s where young people can be very helpful — by protecting themselves, protecting those around them and they’re ultimately protecting their community.”
Greg: “Here in Shelby County, TN — a county with close to 1 million people – we’re seeing on average a little more than 20 infections a day — in fact earlier this week, there was a day when zero infections were reported. We were told by the local health department here that we’re still not out of the woods and if we’re not out of the woods, when we’re approaching zero infections, when do we get out?”
Fauci: “Yeah, that’s a really good question and we will be out of the woods as a country when we have a rather uniform type of acceptance of vaccination to the point of getting the overwhelming majority of people vaccinated. You know, the president gave an aspirational goal of July 4th of having 70% of the adult population — it was never meant to stop there. We’re going to continue wanting to vaccine people throughout the summer until we get as many people as we possibly can.
“You’re out of the woods, Greg, when you have enough of the population that’s either vaccinated or has successfully recovered from an infection so the virus virtually has no place to go. Viruses need susceptible and vulnerable targets. When you diminish them by vaccinating so many people, then you’re really getting to the point, as you say, of being out of the woods. But when you only have 30-35% of people in certain counties vaccinated, you are nowhere near out of the woods.”