Dr. Fauci on the state of the pandemic as the U.S. marks 1 million COVID-19 deaths

President Biden on Thursday marked the U.S. nearing one million lives lost due to the pandemic and called on Congress to pass funding for more COVID relief. The pandemic has claimed more than 6 million lives worldwide, though WHO estimates the real toll tops 15 million deaths tied to the virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    President Biden today marked the U.S. approaching one million lives lost due to the pandemic.

    Worldwide, the pandemic has claimed more than six million lives. The World Health Organization estimates the real toll is significantly higher, 15 million deaths directly or indirectly tied to the virus. The White House lowered flags today to half-staff, and members of Congress held a moment of silence.

    The president delivered his remarks at a global pandemic summit today, calling on Congress to pass stalled funding for more COVID-19 relief in the U.S. and around the globe.

  • President Joe Biden:

    Today, we mark a tragic milestone here in the United States, one million COVID deaths, one million empty chairs around the family dinner table, each irreplaceable, irreplaceable losses, each leaving behind a family, a community forever changed because of this pandemic.

    We all must do more. We must honor those we have lost by doing everything we can to prevent as many deaths as possible.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's get some perspective on this enormous toll and where things stand right now.

    For that, I am joined by Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser.

    Dr. Fauci, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    This is a once-unfathomable number, one million lives lost. You see this reaction from the president, members of the — of Congress marking the day, but we're marking this moment without a national day of mourning or a place to put our shared national grief.

    What does that say to you about the pandemic and the toll it's taken on this country?

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Adviser to President Biden: Well, it's terribly tragic.

    I mean, the idea of one million deaths in an outbreak, that is historic in nature. We have had nothing like this in well over 104 years. One of the parts about it that adds to the tragedy is that many of those deaths were avoidable, avoidable if people had been vaccinated.

    It's estimated that, if people had been vaccinated to a much greater extent right now, that vaccines would have avoided at least a quarter of those deaths, namely about 250,000.

    So, the tragedy of the deaths and the losses that the president spoke about today at the conference are very, very clear. It becomes even more poignant to know that we could have avoided many of those if we had had more people gotten vaccinated and boosted.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Was this the worst-case scenario?

    I mean, you and other experts have been modeling this out from the beginning. I know those estimates have changed over time. One million, did you expect we would get here?

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    No, I did not.

    At the time, quite a while ago, in the early phases of the outbreak, I was wanting people that we could get up to 200,000 deaths. And I was criticized by many people as being too pessimistic. And look at that. We have five times the higher level that I said, and we're still not through this.

    This is terribly tragic. And I would hope that the realization of this and the commemoration of this today, as articulated by the president, would get us to appreciate that there are so many things that we can and should do to make sure that this does not go on.

    A lot of that's going to require resources that we're going to need to continue the vaccination program to develop better drugs so that, when people do get infected, we can prevent them from progressing to hospitalization, severe disease, and death.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask you about what we're seeing across the country, because I travel quite a bit.

    When you're out and about, I have to tell you, they're — in much of the country, it's like there is no pandemic. Once states were rolling back and ask mandates, once the federal transportation mask mandate was struck down, there's a sense that the administration sort of said, OK, do what you want, wear a mask if you want, get vaccinated if you want.

    I'm curious, what more do you think the administration could be doing right now?

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    Well, it's doing what were doing.

    We are pushing very hard for people to get vaccinated. We're developing and making available in a much easier way drugs that can be given when people are infected to protect them from progressing on to severe disease.

    I mean, we're talking about the fact that we need to utilize much more. We're making Paxlovid, which is a very good drug that can diminish by up to 90 percent the likelihood that you will wind up in a hospital, we're making that much, much more widely available throughout the country.

    And we're also putting a big deal of work on trying to get better boosters. We're doing studies right now to optimize the boosters that we ultimately will need as we enter the fall and coming winter season. There's a lot that we're doing.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But is there anything else you could be doing more right now?

    I mean, I ask that because it seems as if people heard you say, when you were previously on the show a few weeks ago, we're moving out of the pandemic phase. I know you clarified those remarks to then say, well, we're out of this one phase. The pandemic is not over.

    And they now hear the administration warning there could be 100 million new infections this fall. And it feels like a bit of whiplash in the messaging.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    Well, let's try to un-whiplash that.

    This pandemic is not over. And if we bring down our guard and not do the things we need to do, forget about getting people vaccinated, forget about getting people boosted, we can get ourselves into the same trouble we were several months ago.

    So, when I was on the show with Judy some time ago, I said the fulminant, acute phase of the pandemic, where we're having 900,000 cases a day, 10,000 hospitalizations a day, and 3,000 deaths per day, that's not where we are right now.

    But with the resurgence of cases, we could be heading in that direction. And that's the reason why we can't let our guard down. And I talk specifically about vulnerable people, about the elderly, about those with underlying conditions.

    We have got to make sure we don't forget about them. We shouldn't forget about anybody in the population, but particularly the vulnerable people who, if they get infected, are more likely to get a severe outcome.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, when you talk about the need for funding for additional resources for those mitigation measures moving ahead, let's get specific.

    If that money does not come through, what kind of choices will you have to make, will medical professionals have to make? Does it mean that everyone who wants a booster won't be able to get one, everyone who's uninsured won't be able to get treatment?

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    The answer to that is yes to both of them.

    First of all, we won't have enough antivirals. We won't be able to develop newer and better antivirals. We won't be able to have a booster for everyone, and we will not be able to get the best possible boosters.

    We have studies right now that are lined up to try and figure out what the most appropriate booster will be for the fourth shot that likely people will need as we get into the fall.

    If we don't get the resources that we asked for, we're not going to be able to do that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So here's the pushback to that, which is, billions have already been spent in COVID response and mitigation, and yet still we have reached one million deaths.

    So, what leads you to believe billions more would prevent additional deaths?

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    Well, I'm sorry, Amna, I think that's a spurious argument.

    We have a very, very challenging outbreak here. The billions that was put in have saved millions of lives. And more that will be put in will continue to save many, many lives. I don't think it's a really valid argument to say, you put a lot of money in and a lot of people still died, so why put money in? I'd have to reject that argument.

    There is a threat and a likelihood that we'll see a surge as we get into the fall and the winter. So we've got to be prepared. And we've got to be prepared with vaccinations, with boosters, with optimizing the therapy.

    And that's what I mean when we say we can't leave our guard down. Even though, right at this moment, we're not in the so-called fulminant phase of the outbreak, we are still in the middle of the pandemic.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser.

    Dr. Fauci, always good to have you. Thank you.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    Thank you for having me.

Listen to this Segment