Coronavirus cases are rising and so is confusion. Vaccinated people get infected less…but can still get infected. Unvaccinated people make up more than 90% of hospitalizations, yet so many are still somehow so hesitant. Concerned that this is getting out of control, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the President and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, answered questions for Bhekisisa and Newzroom Afrika‘s new collaborative segment Health Hub. Read on for 8 life-saving pieces of advice—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You Have “Long” COVID and May Not Even Know It.
Dr. Fauci said “there are no indications” that something worse than Delta is coming but that it “is entirely possible. One of the reasons why we continue to push to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can, not only in our own country, but throughout the world, is that viruses do not mutate unless they are allowed to replicate and spread. If you prevent the virus from spreading, it will not mutate and you will not get another variant. So the best way to prevent the evolution of, yet again, another variant that could be more problematic than the one we’re dealing with—the best way to do that is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as you possibly can.”
“I don’t think people should make that assumption that we have to wear masks forever,” said Fauci. “That is certainly not something that I think is in the future for us. One of the most important things and the basis of the recommendation is that the Delta virus that we’re dealing with is a high degree of transmissibility. It is in fact, well-handled by the vaccines that we are currently using the ultimate solution to all of this is to get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can. What the CDC noticed is that in vaccinated people, in which there are breakthrough infections and a breakthrough infection means you’re vaccinated. But since the vaccines are never 100% effective, there will be a certain small number of people who will be infected, even though they are in vaccinated. And we found with the Delta variants, when you get infected, if you are vaccinated, you have the capability of transmitting it to someone else. And because of that, the CDC out of an abundance of caution is saying that if you go in an indoor public setting in an area of the United States, that has a high or substantial degree of transmission, you should be wearing a mask, not only to protect yourself so that you don’t get infected and inadvertently pass it on. For example, to someone in your home, a child or an elderly person, or a person who has an underlying immune deficiency that might make them more susceptible to a severe outcome. That is the rationale for the change in the CDC guidelines. We don’t anticipate that that means there’s going to be mask wearing forever. We believe that once you get this under control with vaccination, we won’t be needing to do this at all.”
How to convince someone the vaccines work? “You have to give them the data. And if they listen to the data, it will become apparent to them. There’s one very compelling bit of data regarding why one should get vaccinated in the United States and very likely throughout the world, but in the United States, 99.5% of all the deaths due to COVID-19 are among unvaccinated people. And only 0.5% of the deaths are among vaccinated people. So when you ask someone or someone asks you, why should I get vaccinated? The most important reason to get vaccinated is not so that you don’t have to wear a mask. The most important reason to get vaccinated is to save your life, to prevent you from getting infected and ultimately potentially getting seriously ill and dying. That’s the reason to get vaccinated. And that’s the argument that one needs to use when people say, why should I get vaccinated? It’s the 600,000 deaths in the United States that we’ve had that should convince people why they should get vaccinated.”
“In the United States, we’ve reached somewhat of a Stonewall here, we have about a hundred million people who are eligible to be vaccinated, who do not want to get vaccinated. There are multiple reasons. Sometimes the reason is just the accessibility and the ease of getting vaccinated. Some people are inherently against vaccines, but some people are on the fence. And if you make it extremely easy for them to get vaccinated, you find that many people who would otherwise not get vaccinated immediately will actually get vaccinated if you outreach to them and make it easy. So what we’ve done in the United States is that we’ve made vaccines available in over 40,000 pharmacies throughout the country. We have mobile units going out into not easily accessible geographic areas. We have trusted messengers in society, reaching out to people.”
“I think that we’ve got to be careful if you have an overrule mandate from the central government that would not go over well in the United States, if there was a mandate for everyone in the country to get vaccinated, but you can do something very effective. And that is to get certain agencies in the federal government or at the state level to say, if you want to work in this particular department, you’ve got to get vaccinated. And that has been successful thus far. I think what we are seeing is, for example, the Mayor of New York City has said, you either get vaccinated or you got to get tested at least once a week. So people who may feel, I don’t want to go through the trouble of getting tested, may say, all right, I’ll get vaccinated. It’s those kinds of inducements that I think are going to be successful in getting more people vaccinated over the next months to a year.”
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Dr. Fauci said of proof of vaccination— “I think in some countries that is going to work, I mean, there’s a lot of resistance against vaccine passports as a national issue in the United States, but we’re having a functional version of that anyway, because I will imagine that once the vaccines get full approval from the FDA, that from a legal standpoint, many organizations will feel quite comfortable with saying, unless you can prove to me that you’re a vaccinated, you can’t come to this university. You can’t come to this college, or you can’t work in this particular establishment. That would be the functional equivalent of a vaccine passport, but it won’t come centrally from the federal government.”
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“Herd immunity is a concept that certainly is achievable, which means you get enough people vaccinated and, or having been infected and are left with lasting protective immunity,” said Dr. Fauci. “So as a concept, you can reach that. I know one way you could reach it really easily is get a hundred percent of the people vaccinated. And then you really do have good herd immunity. You’re likely not going to get a hundred percent of the people vaccinated, but I think if you get a very overwhelming majority, plus the people who’ve already been infected and are protected, to some extent you will reach it. What we don’t know now is what’s called the threshold of herd immunity. We know what that number is. Is it 70, 80, 85, 90? We don’t know. So when you don’t know, the best thing to do is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as you possibly can.”
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Will things ever return back to normal? “I believe it will,” said Fauci, “but it’s in our hands to make sure it does. And we’ve got to act, we’ve got to get people vaccinated. We’ve got to produce a lot more vaccines and we’ve got to make sure they get equitably distributed. If we do that, we will return to normal, but I hope the normal will be a better normal than we started out with…being prepared for the next epidemic.” So get vaccinated, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.