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Dr. Fauci on delta variant, booster shots and masks for the vaccinated

To understand more about the threat to Americans from the delta variant of the novel coronavirus, including the need for vaccinated individuals to wear masks or require booster vaccines, Judy Woodruff turns to Dr. Anthony Fauci. Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, and the president's chief medical advisor.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's understand more about the Delta variant's growing threat here and abroad.

    We turn to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH. He's also the president's chief medical adviser.

    Dr. Fauci, thank you for being with us again.

    Many Americans were starting to feel we're moving back to normal, restrictions slowly starting to be lifted. But now we see this variant, other countries slamming on the brakes. Just how much of a game-changer is it?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Well, it certainly is a game changer, Judy, for people who are not vaccinated.

    One of the issues that's very, very clear is that the vaccines that are used in this country, fundamentally, the mRNA vaccines, with few exceptions, are really doing quite well in protecting against any symptomatic disease, and certainly highly effective in preventing against severe disease that would lead to hospitalization or deaths.

    The concern we have is that we have pockets in this country, particularly, but not exclusively, among certain Southern states, where the level of vaccination is really dangerously low, around 35 percent or so. As a country, we're doing very well. We have 50 percent of the adult population is fully vaccinated.

    More than that, about 67 or 66 percent of the adult population has received at least one dose. And particularly among the elderly, about 85-plus percent of the elderly have received one dose. That's the good news, is that, if you are vaccinated, in general, you are doing fine.

    It's the concern about unvaccinated people. So, if ever there was what I would say a clarion call to people to please get vaccinated, you can protect yourself against a virus that has a better capability of spreading from person to person and that could make you more seriously ill.

    So that's the issue. You don't want to see two Americas, one that's protected very nicely because the vaccines work, and then certain pockets of the country where you can have these mini-surges which could really be very disconcerting and dangerous.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, how do you — I mean, in trying to understand just how much more worrying this new variant is, is there a way to quantify that?

    I mean, I'm reading stories about even people in Australia who are quarantined in separate hotel rooms, they're still getting the COVID, and there is concern about air circulation.

  • Anthony Fauci:


    Yes, it is clearly more transmissible by multifold, a few times more. And if you look at the hospitalization, there was a study, Judy, from Scotland which showed that hospitalizations clearly had a few times more likelihood of getting hospitalized if you were infected with the Delta variant vs. the variants that were previously circulating.

    In certain countries, the Delta variant has become really quite dominant. It has pushed aside the other variants that are there. This will happen in our country, the United States, in those areas of unvaccinated people.

    And, again, that's the reason why we say we're dealing with something we have to take very seriously. It's really a dichotomy. If you're vaccinated, you're in reasonably good shape, in fact, quite good shape. If you're not vaccinated, you're at significant risk.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But until we see more Americans vaccinated, do you believe there are going to have to be restrictions reimposed?

    For example, the World Health Organization is saying people should now again be wearing masks indoors because of this variant.

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Yes, the — we have to be careful to distinguish what the World Health Organization has to deal with.

    The World Health Organization has to deal with recommendations for the entire planet, which is an undervaccinated planet. About 10 percent of the people are vaccinated in the world, some countries even less than that.

    So there are some countries where the virus is raging with a high dynamics of spread. So, even if you are vaccinated, and you're in that environment, the chances, with a vaccine that, as good as it is, no vaccine is 100 percent. And we know that even the good vaccines, the ones that we really do know protect, protect about 88 percent against infection that's symptomatic and over 90 percent against severe infection.

    There are vaccines that are being used globally that are not nearly as good as that. And then there were those who've only received one dose because of a shortage of vaccinations.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Anthony Fauci:

    And we know that, in certain situations, one dose, the efficacy goes down from like 88 percent down to around 30 percent.

    So it's no wonder that the WHO is saying that, even if you are vaccinated, and you're in an area with a high density of virus, that you, in fact, should still wear a mask indoors.

    In the United States, it's a bit different. We want to make clear that there will be some people, understandably — and there's nothing wrong with that — who are vaccinated who don't want to take any risk. They're very risk-averse, I think particularly elderly people and people who have underlying conditions.

    They may consult with their physician or a health care provider and say, you know, I really don't want to take any risk at all. It's perfectly fine for those people to wear a mask.

    But, as a country, the CDC at this point has not changed the recommendation that, if you are vaccinated, you do not need to wear a mask. They are following the dynamics of this outbreak literally on a daily basis. And if the data change to indicate there should be a change in the guideline, that change would be made.

    But, right now, things will stay the same vis-a-vis the original guidelines from the CDC.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So I hear you saying the door is open possibly to reinstating some restrictions, depending on where this variant goes.

    Dr. Fauci, speaking of this variant and protecting against it, where does the research stand right now in terms of booster shots? We're reading there's more and more reason to believe that Americans will need boosters.

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Well, there is research and multiple studies, Judy, that are going on right now, some sponsored by us at the NIH, some sponsored by the companies themselves, that are trying to determine what the feasibility and the necessity of a booster is.

    And it's based on two or three considerations. You boost for durability of response. In other words, you get good protection, but you're not sure how long it lasts. You could monitor that either by monitoring laboratory data, like correlates of immunity, or monitoring clinical issues, such as whether or not you get more breakthrough infections than you would have predicted. That's one thing.

    Then there is the idea of a booster that might be booster against a specific variant. Up to now, even though we're testing for that, we haven't had to seriously consider that because the vaccines that we are using now, as I mentioned a moment ago, seem to be doing quite well even against the Delta variant.

    Bottom line, you keep an open mind always. You do the research in case you have to use boosters. I would think it was likely, at some time, we may need a booster. When that will be will be determined by the studies that are being done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Dr. Fauci, your message to Americans who are wavering right now, who are still reluctant to get the vaccine?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Well, the data are looking at you square in the face.

    Please, for your own safety, for the safety of your family, and for your communal responsibility to get this virus crushed, you do that when you get the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated. So, I encourage very strongly people who are hesitant to get vaccinated to please get vaccinated.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, we appreciate it. Thank you.

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Thank you, Judy. Good to be with you.

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