Dr. Anthony Fauci On Coronavirus Vaccines And Mask Mandates

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Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director & White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” (M-F, 3PM-5PM ET) today, Thursday, August 19th. Following are links to video on CNBC.com:

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The One Thing We Do Know Is That Vaccines Protect, Says Dr. Fauci

What Dr. Fauci Would Say To Governors Fighting Mask Mandates

SARA EISEN: Joining us now first on CNBC White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci. Welcome back to the show Dr. Fauci, it’s good to have you.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Thank you for having me. Good to be with you.

EISEN: So clearly the fate of the economy is tied to this virus. When do you think this current Delta wave will peak?

DR. FAUCI: You know, it's very difficult to predict. We've seen in the UK that after several weeks of a high acceleration, it's turned around. There's a lot we can do about it and to ensure that it not only continues to accelerate but it really goes down to a very low level and that's the thing we've been talking about all the time and that is we have 90 million people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not yet gotten vaccinated. So, we want to vaccinate the unvaccinated to the highest extent that we possibly can, the greatest proportion possible, but also as we've heard yesterday in the announcement that I was part of yesterday at the White House press conference is that in order to maintain the durability and the height of the protection among those who've already been vaccinated, we're recommending a booster dose that I believe will go a long way to continuing a high level of protection. So, it's within our power to do something about turning that that acceleration around. It's just up to us to implement it.

EISEN: About the boosters which I know you are recommending but my question is where that ultimately goes? Are we going to need boosters every year indefinitely?

DR. FAUCI: You know, I don't think we can say that, I doubt it very seriously. You know, I believe that the third boost of a two shot regimen, namely what we're recommending for those who've gotten the mRNA vaccine, we're noticing in clinical studies that the level of antibodies that that induces is very, very high so what we're hoping for is that that third shot really gets you up to such a high level that not only is it highly protective but it's very durable. That's what we're hoping for. We can't guarantee. I doubt seriously but I don't know for sure that we're going to be able to say, we're going to no longer need boosts every X number of months. I don't think that that's going to be the case. I think this third shot will take us a long way.

WILFRED FROST: Is it possible to get the booster shot too early, Dr. Fauci? I mean, given that there is plenty of supply should those that are keen just get on with it and go in and get their third shot.

DR. FAUCI: You know Wilfred, it depends on exactly when you got it. There should obviously be a range. We're trying to do it in an orderly fashion talking about eight months, which would start around the third week in September, but in all things like this it's a range, you know, six to nine months or what have you. The one thing you don't want to do is if you get it too soon for example, if I got my second shot today and then I heard on TV or in the news that a booster will be helpful and decide in two to three weeks I want to go and get the third shot, that would be counterproductive because one of the reasons that we believe the boost works is that you give the immune response of the second shot enough time to mature and make it ready so that when you give a boost, it really jacks up the response a lot so you don't want to make it too soon, but there will be a range of when you can get it even though optimally, we'd like it to be eight months. I believe people are going to be doing it at six months or so. Human nature itself is going to tell you that people will be doing that.

EISEN: The World Health Organization says that protecting the unvaccinated before giving boosters to the vaccinated is critical. And I know we're donating millions of vaccines and President Biden says we can do both, but if vaccines are still protecting us in this country, isn't it a real ethical question as to whether we should be getting a third shot before billions of people have access to their first?

DR. FAUCI: Well if you look at what's been done, you can do both. Absolutely and we feel a very strong responsibility that we are acting on as a nation to get doses to the low and middle-income countries so you have to look at the facts that we feel we can protect maximally people in this country at the same time as we play the major role in protecting people in other countries. Let me give you an example of this. Already, the United States has donated more doses to low and middle-income countries than the rest of the world combined. We have a commitment to give a half a billion doses between now and as we get into the first half of next year. We've already given over 110, 120 million doses to 80 countries. We have $4 billion worth of resources going into the COVAX program and in addition, we are now working on greatly expanding the capacity to allow us to donate hundreds and hundreds of millions of doses to the low and middle-income countries. So, we are doing both and we're very sensitive to the needs of the developing world who need vaccine doses but we believe we can do both.

FROST: Dr. Fauci, pivoting back to the, to the US, you started the interview in your first answer making a plea to encourage as many to get vaccinated as possible. Similar tone and message that you delivered last time you joined us a month or so ago and I just wondered how optimistic you were that we will really meaningfully see a pickup in the percentage of the population that's fully vaccinated? Because you know we've crossed 50%, that's pretty good, you know, aren't we always to expect it to plateau after you kind of cross those levels?

DR. FAUCI: You know, Wilfred, a couple of different things have happened and are really in motion right now. For example, we went from a couple of million people a day vaccinating, we went down to around 250,000 and then when things started to really go bad, a certain segment of the unvaccinated started to realize that, you know, we're in trouble. We better get vaccinated and we’re now the last few days have gone up to like a million people. So, we went, we peaked up, we went down and now we're back up. Next thing is that as soon as the vaccines get fully approved by the FDA, which we hope is going to be very soon, two things are going to happen. People are going to say well I was waiting all along to get the full approval, now that it is, I’ll get vaccinated. I think you're going to have a certain proportion of the people that were not vaccinated are going to do that. Next, what will happen is that you will find enterprises, organizations empowered to start mandating vaccines such as universities and colleges saying, if you want to attend in person, you have to be vaccinated. You will have places of employment particularly big organizations that employ hundreds of thousands of people will be saying if you want to work for us, you've got to get vaccinated. They were hesitant to do that before because you didn't have the backup of a full approval of the vaccination. So, I think we can put a dent in that group of people who are thus far not getting vaccinated that they will now come along and get vaccinated.

FROST: The other thing I wanted to ask Dr. Fauci was about the possible percentage of, percentage of the population with antibodies in the US. There's been some analysis here in the UK, some of which is purely anecdotal that suggests the peak in Delta came and went quite quickly perhaps because the football tournament and other aspects were held here, leading to a higher level of herd immunity than just the fact that over 60% versus 50% in the US are fully vaccinated and maybe as much as 80%, 90% have antibodies of some form. Do we have any data on that in the US and could it be lower than it is here in the UK?

DR. FAUCI: You know, that's a very good point. It is conceivable, it is conceivable but I want to underscore that we don't know for sure that the combination of the high level of vaccinations in the UK together with the high level of infections that they’ve experienced has gotten to the point you have a substantial proportion of people relatively protected. We don't know that, you know, we've counted on peaks that have occurred and then gone down and people incorrectly have said, ah, we've now reached herd immunity, we're okay, only to find another peak that followed that was even worse than the previous one. So, we better be careful that we make assumptions about that. The one thing we do know is that vaccines protect. That's the one thing we do know which is the reason why with all the guessing and the surmising about is it this factor or that factor, the one thing that we're certain of is what vaccines can and will do.

EISEN: So is it safe to take our unvaccinated kids Dr. Fauci on vacation, on planes right now?

DR. FAUCI: You know, again, it really depends where you're going, where you're coming from, the level of infection. Right now, travel is a situation where we know that in the process of travel, we know the lines at the airport and things like that, planes themselves, when you look at it, it seems to be relatively safe. One of the things you want to do when you have unvaccinated children, you do two things. You surround them with people who are vaccinated, such as in the school system which is why we want all the teachers and the personnel in the school to be vaccinated, and then when you have people like younger children who can't be vaccinated, that's why you want to wear masks to protect yourselves and to prevent you from infecting them.

EISEN: But what do we know about Delta infected kids? How sick are they getting? Any hospitalizations? What can you tell us about this and why isn't the CDC telling us about this kind of data?

DR. FAUCI: Well, when you look at what's happening in pediatric hospitals throughout the country, you have to factor in the situation with Delta. Delta is a very highly transmissible virus so without a doubt, we have seen more of anybody who's unvaccinated getting infected and that includes children. So, this idea that children don't get infected or children don't transmit, that's not the case with Delta and quantitatively, the more children that will get infected, there will be a certain proportion of them, it will be a small proportion, but there will be a proportion of them that will get seriously ill and will be in the hospital which is the reason why when you go around in the red hot zones, the places where there's a lot of transmission, you find that in the pediatric hospitals, you have a lot more children who are in the hospital not only with, with COVID-19 but with other respiratory infections like respiratory syncytial virus. So, children are not exempt from getting severe disease even though, relatively speaking, when you compare them with people like the elderly or adults, they are less likely to get severe disease. But not so completely exempt that you don't see a lot of them in the hospital.

EISEN: Finally, Palm Beach in a state of emergency, we're seeing rising numbers in Texas. What do you, what do you say Dr. Fauci to the governors of Texas and Florida that are refusing to allow masks in schools?

DR. FAUCI: You know, I don't want to directly—

EISEN: Or to mandate it.

DR. FAUCI: You know, that's a good question. I don't want to directly address the governors because then it becomes a personal, semi political thing. The only thing that I can do is say what the right public health approach is, get as many people vaccinated as you possibly can and, and take a look at and seriously consider the recommendations of the CDC about mask wearing, mask wearing in schools to protect the children, mask wearing indoors even if you are vaccinated when you're in a zone like Florida and Texas that has a high degree of infection. Those are simple public health measures that should be adhered to.

FROST: Dr. Fauci, thanks so much for joining us. Great to see you again.

DR. FAUCI: Same here. Thank you for having me.

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