Dr. Fauci on why the U.S. is ‘out of the pandemic phase’

Health

Editor's note: In speaking with The Washington Post after this interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci expanded on his remarks, saying that the U.S. was out of the "full-blown explosive pandemic phase," but that the virus still posed a threat. “We’re really in a transitional phase, from a deceleration of the numbers into hopefully a more controlled phase and endemicity,” Fauci told the Post.

As COVID cases begin to pick up across the U.S. the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday said that three out of every four children have been infected by COVID. This comes as the White House moved to make Paxlovid pills, which can reduce serious illness, more widely available. Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's look now at the latest news on COVID and what is needed now.

    I spoke earlier today with President Biden's chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, as part of the upcoming Crosscut Festival for KCTS 9. That is the PBS station in Seattle. Our full discussion can be seen during the festival, which runs May 3 to the 7th.

    Dr. Fauci, thank you very much for joining us. So much to talk about.

    But I want to start with new data that we are learning about how many Americans have been infected with the COVID virus. Among all Americans — and I think this dates back to February — 60 percent, almost, had been infected, and among children, 75 percent had been infected.

    First of all, were you surprised by these numbers? And, second of all, does this, in your mind, change the way there should be an official response to the virus?

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Adviser to President Biden: Well, I wasn't terribly surprised, Judy, because we have been having this virus around now for almost two-and-a-half years.

    So the idea that, if you look at the serology, which is the antibody test in the blood which determines whether you have been infected or not, it's not surprising that you have that proportion of the population.

    I think it's important for people to realize that, because, although immunity following infection and recovery does not last indefinitely, it does give a degree, variable degrees of protection against severe disease if you get reinfected.

    So, if you add up the people who've been infected, plus the people who've been vaccinated and hopefully boosted, you have a rather substantial proportion of the United States population that has some degree of immunity that's residual, either residual from prior infection, or hopefully people who are getting vaccinated and boosted.

    We know we have 66 percent of the total population has been vaccinated, and about half of them have been boosted.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In connection with all this, Dr. Fauci, we live in the Northeast of the United States. We are hearing about more cases here, including prominent members of the public, including lawmakers, the vice president of the United States.

    Many of them are having mild or no symptoms at all. What does that tell us about how many more Americans, who aren't getting tested as regularly as these individuals are, who may just be walking around with COVID, but not aware of it?

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    I think he just hit the nail on the head there, Judy, because I am virtually certain that we are undercounting the number of infections, just for the same reason.

    There are many people, people who I know myself, friends and others, who get infected, who do an antigen test, don't get many symptoms, but don't report it to anyone. So, the fact is, there are infections that are not getting centrally reported.

    So I do believe that there's an undercount. We should do better than that. We should probably be able to track them much better. But the good news is the one that you mentioned, and you're absolutely correct. The relationship or ratio between hospitalizations and infections is such that we're not seeing a comparable increase proportionately of hospitalizations, unlike what was happening with Delta when, as the cases went way up, the hospitalizations also went way up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Should we have stricter reporting requirements, though, so that the country can just keep better track of how many cases there are?

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    Yes, I would like to see that, I would like to see a way where, when you get an antigen test, somehow or other, you can put it in an app and just get some way of recording it.

    It would give us a much better feel and a bunch of better understanding of the scope of any rebound. Even though it's a mild rebound, you really like to know what the accurate counting of cases is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, for those who are having symptoms now, Dr. Fauci there's been a fair amount of discussion lately about a treatment, a drug called Paxlovid.

    And I know there are generic names for it as well, a fair amount of confusion about who should be taking it, who shouldn't. There's a sense that it's not available to many people who need it. It does require a doctor's prescription. We're told that it is available, but it's not reaching everyone who needs it.

    What should we know about this drug?

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    We are under utilizing what is a highly effective therapy.

    In clinical trials, when you looked at the proportion of individuals who were protected from getting on and progressing to hospitalizations, it was close to 90 percent. So we need to do more. There are a lot of doses available. We have sites where you can, as we say, test to treat, which means you can come into a place, get tested, and, if you are tested, immediately get put on therapy, if they're eligible.

    We have ordered tens of thousands more of these of these drugs, namely Paxlovid. And we're having sites where there are now — we started off with 20,000 sites have Paxlovid available. We're increasing that to 30,000, with the aim of going to 40,000, essentially doubling the number of sites where you can get it. And I mean pharmacies and clinics and places like that, as well as something that's important that you alluded to is educating the public and the health care providers that this is something that is available and that should be much more widely used.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dr. Fauci, let me broaden this out and ask you.

    Here we are. It's the end of April. It's the spring of 2022. How close are we to the end of this pandemic?

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    Well, that's an unanswerable question, for the following reason. And I don't want to be evasive about it, but let me tell you why I'm giving you that answer, Judy.

    We are certainly right now in this country out of the pandemic phase. Namely, we don't have 900,000 new infections a day and tens and tens and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. We are at a low level right now.

    So, if you're saying, are we out of the pandemic phase in this country, we are. What we hope to do, I don't believe — and I have spoken about this widely — we're not going to eradicate this virus. If we can keep that level very low, and intermittently vaccinate people — and I don't know how often that would have to be, Judy.

    That might be every year, that might be longer, in order to keep that level low. But, right now, we are not in the pandemic phase in this country. Pandemic means a widespread, throughout the world, infection that spreads rapidly among people.

    So, if you look at the global situation, there's no doubt this pandemic is still ongoing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, thank you very much.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    Thank you, Judy. Good to be with you.

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Dr. Fauci on why the U.S. is ‘out of the pandemic phase’ first appeared on the PBS NewsHour website.

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