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He’s Back: Fauci Insists New Variant Means ‘We Can’t Just Say We’re Done’

On Thursday night, Dr. Anthony Fauci emerged from his relative silence recently to insist that a new variant of the COVID-19 virus meant that “we can’t just say we’re done.”

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to President Biden, admitted to CNN’s Jake Tapper that although there were rising infections in countries in Europe and Asia, “what they are seeing now is not an increase in severity of disease. For example, their ICU bed usage, their intensive care unit bed usage is not up, and the overall mortality, the overall all cause mortality is actually down. So it’s a very interesting situation where the cases are going up, but it does not at this point in time appear to be any degree of severity.”

But then he stated, “… we certainly are concerned because I would not be surprised, Jake, that if in the next few weeks given the fact that we’ve begun to open up and we have an increase in BA.2 variant, that we’ll be seeing an increased cases. Hopefully, that’s not associated with an increase in hospitalizations and severe disease. “

“But the one thing that’s important, that’s a wild card in this is that there is waning immunity,” Fauci asserted. “We’ve got to make sure that those people who have been vaccinated get boosted. Only about 50 percent of the people who were eligible to be vaccinated have gotten their boost. “

The exchange went like this:

Tapper: So we’re seeing these rising infections in countries in Europe and Asia where this BA.2 subvariant has become the dominant strain. The latest estimates from U.K. authorities say it’s spreading 80 percent faster than the original strain, but we’re also told that the BA.2 subvariant is not more likely to lead to hospitalization, although, of course, there’s growing impact — growing concern about its impact on the health care system. How concerned should we be? Why is there concern about its impact on the health care system? 

Fauci: Well, first of all, what happens is that we generally follow what goes on in the U.K. by about two to three weeks. So we better pay close attention to what’s going on there. They are correct. It has a transmission advantage over the general omicron, which is called BA.1. What they’re seeing is an uptick in cases that are related both to the increased transmissibility of the virus, the waning of immunity, but also the fact that they’re opening up the way we are here and the way other countries in other parts of Europe and other parts of the world and pulling back on mask mandates and things like that. 

They’re seeing an uptick in cases. I’ve spoken to them multiple times over the last week or so, and what they are seeing now is not an increase in severity of disease. For example, their ICU bed usage, their intensive care unit bed usage is not up, and the overall mortality, the overall all cause mortality is actually down. So it’s a very interesting situation where the cases are going up, but it does not at this point in time appear to be any degree of severity. 

So when you ask me do we worry about it, we certainly are concerned because I would not be surprised, Jake, that if that in the next few weeks given the fact that we’ve begun to open up and we have an increase in BA.2 variant, that we’ll be seeing an increased cases. Hopefully, that’s not associated with an increase in hospitalizations and severe disease. 

Tapper:  Yeah. And as we’ve all learned, the most important indicators are hospitalization and mortality, death, because a case could be somebody who tests positive but is asymptomatic or has mild symptoms. The director general of the World Health Organization is sounding the alarm, though, saying that the pandemic is not over. Do you think it was too soon to move to the new metrics that allow so many Americans to not have to wear masks? 

Fauci: Jake, it’s not too soon if you observe the caveat that’s associated with that. And the caveat is we need to be flexible. And if, in fact, we do see a turn-around and a resurgence, we have to be able to pivot and go back to any degree of mitigation that is commensurate with what the situation is. 

So we can’t just say we’re done. Now we’re going to move on. We’ve got to be able to be flexible because we’re dealing with a dynamic situation. Hopefully, the cases will continue to come down as the weather gets warmer, the risk of being indoor is less, and we’ll do well, at least for the coming several months. 

But the one thing that’s important, that’s a wild card in this is that there is waning immunity. We’ve got to make sure that those people who have been vaccinated get boosted. Only about 50 percent of the people who were eligible to be vaccinated have gotten their boost. 

And we still have only 65 percent of the total population fully vaccinated. If we want to be able to have a buffer against the possibility of there being a resurgence, there are things that we can do right now about that. 

Tapper: Is there a number, a percentage in terms of we still — I think we still have more than a thousand deaths in the U.S. every day due to COVID. Do we know what the percentages of individuals who are in the mortality count who are not vaccinated at all or who are vaccinated but not boosted? That seems like common sense but I don’t know that we have those numbers. 

Fauci: Oh, we do. 

Tapper: Okay. 

Fauci: We definitely have those numbers. If you look at the percentage of people per hundred thousand who are hospitalized and/or die and compare the unvaccinated with the vaccinated/boosted, the lines split dramatically. Like, you know, 100 and something per 100,000 compared to 20 something. I don’t have the exact numbers, but they’re striking in the difference between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. There’s no doubt about that. 

Tapper: But do we know what the percentage of people are that die every day vaccinated versus unvaccinated versus vaccinated but not boosted? Is there a breakdown like that in terms of — if a thousand people die in a specific day? 

Fauci: Yeah, yeah, I don’t have the precise number, Jake, but it’s something like 90 percent weighted towards the unvaccinated if not more. 

Tapper: All right. Dr. Anthony Fauci, thank you so much for your time today. Appreciate it. Good to see you again. 

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