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Dr. Anthony Fauci talks about vaccine efficacy and second boosters

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Hundreds of people are still dying from COVID-19 every day across the U.S. as the highly contagious variant BA.2 takes hold. But there is a new study out that shows the U.S. vaccination campaign has saved more than 2 million American lives. It's also prevented 17 million hospitalizations and saved billions of dollars in health care costs. To talk about all of this, we're joined now by Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Thank you very much - good to be with you.

CHANG: Good to have you with us. So what do you think the country is in for over the next month when it comes to BA.2?

FAUCI: Well, I think we're going to be seeing an uptick of cases that we are already seeing in certain states. You know, we had a very sharp and steady decline in everything from cases to hospitalizations to deaths. And in general, on a countrywide basis, we're still seeing that. But there are some areas, counties and regions, particularly in the northeast and here in Washington, D.C., where we are seeing a turnaround and an uptick in cases.

If our pattern follows that of the U.K., which we usually do and are usually about 3 to 4 weeks behind them - they are having a significant upsurge in the number of cases. We are hoping that if that does happen, the degree of background immunity that we have in the country with a combination of those who've been infected and perhaps even vaccinated after infection and those who've been vaccinated and hopefully boosted - that we will not see an increase in severity in the sense of a common increase significantly in the number of hospitalizations. But I think...

CHANG: OK.

FAUCI: ...It is going to be very - you know, without a doubt that we are going to see a turnaround as people get out more into the inside venues without masks.

CHANG: Yeah. Well...

FAUCI: That's going to be certainly resulting in infections...

CHANG: OK.

FAUCI: ...Even in people who are vaccinated.

CHANG: Well, in that case, let's turn to boosters, this idea of a second booster. What do you think the likelihood is that the general population will need a second booster by this fall?

FAUCI: I think it's - you know, again, it's difficult to predict. But I would think - given the fact that immunity wanes over a period of time, I would believe that the FDA right now feels this way - that we're getting prepared and we're doing the tests to look at the various combinations of what the most appropriate boost would be; that we would very likely have the population, as we get into the fall and the cold season, given the waning of immunity that we've seen...

CHANG: Yeah.

FAUCI: ...Very consistently - that we will need a boost by the time we get to the fall.

CHANG: But your colleague at the FDA, your colleague Peter Marks at the FDA - he said the country can't keep boosting people every four months. Is that what you foresee - that we will have to keep boosting...

FAUCI: No.

CHANG: ...Every few months? No. OK.

FAUCI: I don't foresee the need to boost every four months. What I see - that we need to get the population vaccinated and boosted. Remember; only 50% of the people have been boosted who who are, in fact, vaccinated with their primary series. We need to get the people to get the third dose first, then move onto the fourth dose. But what I would imagine might happen - that as all of this turns around, we will get into what might be a yearly, seasonal type of an approach because we always have respiratory illnesses.

CHANG: Just like the flu.

FAUCI: Yeah. We have something perhaps similar to flu. And I'm saying this merely as extrapolations. No one knows for certain what will be required. We will have to just look at the data and make decisions.

CHANG: Right.

FAUCI: But if you were to ask me what my projection would be, it would be that by the time we get to the fall that we will have to get everyone boosted with that fourth dose and that we would likely see this to keep the durability of protection on a yearly basis.

CHANG: OK. Well, in that case, I want to talk about indoor events because you were saying you see people still increasing their participation in indoor events. And as you well know, there were a number of infections in people who attended the annual Gridiron Dinner in Washington, D.C. I know you were there. Does that have you thinking twice about how you are going to be dealing with indoor events going forward?

FAUCI: Yeah, and that's the reason why the CDC was very clear when they modified their metrics to make recommendations for indoor masking and said, when the level of infection in the community gets low enough so that it's in what we call the green zone, yeah, you could do that with indoor. But if it changes and the cases go up, I, for one - and I know many people of my colleagues would do the same thing - would go back to masking indoors if we go with a high uptick of cases.

CHANG: That is Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president. Thank you very much for joining us again.

FAUCI: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.