Dr. Fauci on vaccine mandates, reopening schools, booster shots

President Joe Biden's plan to get the country vaccinated would essentially require two-thirds of American workers to get vaccinated or face weekly testing. The Department of Labor will draft new rules requiring the same for all businesses with 100 workers or more. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss that and more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As the country struggles with a surge of COVID, the president is significantly ramping up his efforts to get more Americans vaccinated.

    The plan he announced today was the most far-reaching yet. President Biden would essentially require two-thirds of American workers to either get vaccinated or face weekly testing. The Department of Labor will draft new rules requiring that for all businesses with 100 workers or more. Additionally, most federal employees will now have to be vaccinated, or face possible disciplinary action.

    Testing will be more widely available. And the government will use the Defense Production Act to increase access. And the president called on governors to require teachers and staff to get vaccinated.

    Mr. Biden said that COVID spread required a tougher response now.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: The unvaccinated overcrowd our hospitals, are overrunning emergency rooms and intensive care units, leaving no room for someone with a heart attack or pancreatitis or cancer.

    Listen to the voices of unvaccinated Americans who are lying in hospital beds taking their final breath saying, if only I'd gotten vaccinated. If only.

    It's a tragedy. Please don't let it become yours.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And with us once again is Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Biden's chief medical adviser.

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

    It sounds as if President Biden is growing exasperated with people who are not vaccinated. Is he?

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Adviser to President Biden: Yes, he is. And I think that was very well manifested and expressed in his speech today.

    I mean, no doubt we really do need to get more people vaccinated. And what he said is, I think, a good roadway to getting there. That's going to involve, in total, over 100 million people. So I myself am quite favorably impressed by that and feel strongly that that is what we should be doing.

    I mean, we have tried everything we can worry to get people vaccinated. We have the solution within our grasp, within our power. We just need to implement it. And that is what the president has said tonight in his speech, that we are going to implement that. And if that means more mandates, so be it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, these are some ambitious steps the president announced.

    But I will be candid, Dr. Fauci. I'm already hearing from people who are saying, wait a minute. We're already in the middle of this surge of the Delta variant, hospitals, some hospitals running out of space. Shouldn't this have come earlier?

    What do you say to that?

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    Well, Judy, I say, every time something happens that is good, somebody is going to say, why didn't you do it earlier?

    It isn't as if we have not been pushing hard to get people vaccinated, making it easier. It's safe. It's easy. It's convenient. It's free. We have done all those things. We have used trusted messengers to get out there.

    So it isn't as if we have been sitting back, thinking that things were going to happen spontaneously. So, I would respectfully object to that particular appreciation or interpretation of this as being too late.

    It isn't. It's something that is important. And I'm very glad that the president did it when he did it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me ask you about a number of the specifics in what the president announced.

    One part of this is to ask the Labor Department to draw up regulations, in essence, asking or demanding that employers with over 100 employees require the people who work for them to be vaccinated.

    How do you make sure that happens?

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    Well, I mean, you — coming from the president, the Department of Labor makes these types of, I wouldn't say pronouncements, but makes it very clear that, through the Department of Labor — I don't know quite frankly, Judy, how you enforce these pronouncements from the Department of Labor.

    But I'm sure that there is a way of doing that. I'm not privy to exactly how they're going to enforce it. But I'm sure there are going to be ways to do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will watch and see what comes out of the Labor Department.

    Dr. Fauci, even before today's announcement, we're already hearing from some Republican political leaders who are saying that these kinds of moves they were anticipating President Biden making are — quote — "authoritarian," undermining confidence in vaccines.

    We heard from Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state today. She said: "The president using fear, control and mandates, failing to put science first."

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    Well, Judy, I totally disagree with that statement. It doesn't make any sense.

    Failing to put — science is the reason why you need to get vaccinated. So this is, in fact, putting science first. If you listen to the science, the science overwhelmingly indicates that you should get vaccinated. So, anything that the president does to see that we do get vaccinated is following the science.

    So, with all due respect to the people who are saying that, I totally disagree with it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me ask you about another part of what the president discussed, and that is calling on the governors of all the states to require teachers and staff in the public schools to be vaccinated.

    Do we know if the president has the authority, or can he make the governors do this? How does that work?

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    No, he cannot.

    And that's exactly why he worded it that way. He is encouraging the governors and the local authorities to get the people in the school system to get vaccinated. He doesn't exert an authority to do that. He's using the power of persuasion in his office as president to do that.

    And it was very clear from the wording of that that's exactly what he was doing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in your — you hear about this every single day.

    Is there more that could be done right now? We are watching school systems around the country struggling with this, whether to stay open, whether to close, whether to go to virtual, whether to the hybrid. Is there more that you think could be done right now?

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    Well, I think what we saw with the president's speech this evening, Judy, was a big step in the direction of doing a lot.

    This was pretty clearly more than just incremental. This was saying — and you heard the frustration in his voice — enough is enough. We have got to get people vaccinated. We have within our grasp the capability and the tools to do it.

    So I think that this speech and what it represents is a very strong step forward in the direction of getting this done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Booster shots, the administration has talked about this. You have talked about it.

    We're now hearing complaints that the signals coming from the administration are confusing. At first, it was, we don't need boosters. Then it was, yes, we're going to have boosters September 20. And then it was only Pfizer.

    Where does that stand right now?

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    Well, we will have boosters. I'm virtually certain of that.

    If you look at the evidence that's evolving from our own cohort studies that the CDC is following, to the very clear evidence we're getting from our Israeli colleagues, that the immunity, particularly against infection, but, in the Israeli data, certainly also against severe disease, is waning, including in the context of the Delta variant.

    We are also seeing that, in the situation in Israel where they are boosting people, the boosting is highly successful in increasing dramatically the protection that one gets against serious disease and against infection.

    So, as the time goes by and these data roll out, I would be very surprised, Judy, if you're not going to hear a very crisp, clear message about boosting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And when do you think that will come?

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    It's — as the president said, and we all agree, that it's going to be up to the FDA to gather the data that's accumulated, both in our own country and from Israel, to look at it and to make a regulatory determination as to the appropriateness and timing of a booster.

    Then the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will look at that and make recommendations. And, as soon as the data becomes available, I'm certain that those agencies will act as expeditiously as possible. Hopefully, that will be very soon, because this is something we want to see get implemented, if, in fact, the decision is made.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As you know, Dr. Fauci another aspect of the booster issue is what the World Health Organization has been saying and pleading and now, frankly, criticizing the United States and other nations for planning to move ahead with boosters.

    Just yesterday, the head of the WHO, Dr. Tedros — and I'm quoting him. He said — he said: "I will not stay silent when the companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world's poor should be satisfied with leftovers."

    In other words, why can't the rich — richer countries wait until the poorer countries have more people vaccinated? Because, after all, that's how the Delta variant is spreading.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    Well, Judy, let's just take a look at what we in the United States are doing.

    We believe that we can do both, that we can get doses to the developing world, the low- and middle-income countries, at the same time as we implement a booster program here in the United States.

    So, let's take a look at what we're doing simultaneously. You and I are now talking about the program that will likely roll out to do boosts, the third shot superimposed upon the two shots. We're planning to do that.

    What we are also simultaneously doing is that we have given now 130 million doses to 90 countries. We are giving a half-a-billion doses, 200 million of which will be given before the end of the year; 300 million will be given in the first half of 2022.

    We have given $4 billion. And the president is already talking about increasing the capacity of the countries — excuse me — of the companies to make doses, so that we can give them to the low- and middle-income countries.

    So, if it was only doing it for ourselves with boosters, you would have a very good case that the WHO is correct, we shouldn't be doing that. But when we're doing the boosters at the same time as we are significantly increasing the number of doses to the low- and middle-income countries, that's proof that you can do both.

    I'm very sensitive, as all of my colleagues are, to the needs of low- and middle-income countries. But if you do both at the same time, then there's not an argument there. And that's exactly what's happening.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dr. Fauci, you are working on this issue every day and for long hours.

    But I do have to ask you about more criticisms that we're hearing out there that the administration stopped doing — providing enough testing. I know the president addressed that today, said that's going to be ramped up. But there's been a big lag with regard to testing.

    There's also been a lag with regard to following the cases, breakthrough cases. The U.S. is depending on Israel and other countries for their research. Do you acknowledge that the U.S., that this administration could have done a better job in these areas in these critical last several months?

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    Judy, the one thing I have learned through many, many years of dealing with outbreaks, and specifically for the last 20 months with this outbreak, any administration, under any circumstances, always could have done better.

    I don't think you can ever say that one did it absolutely perfectly. So you're talking about doing the tracing of people who have asymptomatic infections. Yes, it could have been done better. You're talking about testing. Of course it could have been done better.

    But you're seeing even this evening in the president's speech addressing many of those things. If it can be you can do better, and you don't pay any attention to that, that's bad. But if you realize you can do better, and you take the steps to do better, that's a good thing.

    And I think that's what you're seeing now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, we thank you, as always, for joining us. Thank you.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci:

    Good to be with you, Judy.

    Thank you for having me.

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