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‘Smoldering of this outbreak’: Fauci warns of the dangers of not enough people being vaccinated

Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Dr. Anthony Fauci.STEFANI REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

As coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths trend upward throughout the United States once more, White House medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci issued a stark warning about the threat posed by a substantial percentage of the population going unvaccinated.

“If we don’t get a significant proportion of these recalcitrant people vaccinated, you’re going to be seeing a smoldering of this outbreak in our country for a considerable period of time,” the nation’s top infectious disease expert told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Monday.

Fauci’s comments add to a growing chorus of officials warning that vaccine hesitancy has led to a recent uptick in coronavirus cases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said last week the country is grappling with a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy voiced similar concerns.

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“I believe when the vaccines get fully approved in full licensure, even though it’s no doubt that they are highly effective now and very safe — I think when that official imprimatur occurs, with the full approval, you’re going to see more people get vaccinated,” Fauci said.

Data from the CDC show that just over 68 percent of adults have received at least one shot. But the Delta variant is continuing to rapidly spread, hitting states with low vaccination rates like Arkansas and Utah acutely.

Among the unvaccinated, Fauci said increased hospitalizations due to serious illness — and in some cases, death — can be expected as a result of the highly contagious variant. He added that several studies have demonstrated that the vaccines “still protect very well to the tune of 90 percent or more” against such outcomes.

“In some regions of the country, up to 90 percent of the variants are the Delta variant,” Fauci told PBS’s Judy Woodruff on Monday. “So it has already shown its incredible ability to be able to efficiently transmit from person to person, which makes it very dangerous.”

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Walensky said on Friday that unvaccinated individuals account for over 97 percent of new hospitalizations from the coronavirus. Meanwhile, the seven-day average of new cases has increased by nearly 70 percent, data from the nation’s health protection agency show.

In recent weeks, the spike in rates has prompted pleas from governors for people to get inoculated — even as some Republican lawmakers in their states downplay the risk of the virus and pass legislation restricting or banning vaccine mandates and passports.

“Political differences are totally understandable and a natural part of the process in any country,” Fauci said on CNN. “But when it comes to a public health issue, in which you’re in the middle of a deadly pandemic and the common enemy is the virus, it just doesn’t make any sense to essentially disregard or don’t pay attention to what’s obvious.”

Vaccine hesitancy and resistance, spurred by misinformation campaigns on social media and the word of some elected officials, emerged as a point of contention in the White House on Friday, with President Biden assessing that platforms like Facebook are “killing people” for allowing lies and conspiracy theories about the shots to remain on their platforms.

Fauci touched on the issue over the weekend, telling CNN’s Jim Acosta that he thought polio and smallpox would still be circulating in the country if “we had the kind of false information that’s being spread now.”

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On the topic of mask mandates making a return and calls from experts to brace for the possibility of having to wear face coverings again — two months after the CDC said vaccinated individuals could go without them in most settings — Fauci said on PBS NewsHour on Monday that people should “pay attention to what is going on in the area where you are living.”

“So, if you live in an area where you have a high dynamic of infection — and that’s usually in an area where there is a low level of vaccination — if you happen to live in that area, you may want to go the extra mile and get the extra degree of protection of wearing a mask, even though you are vaccinated, for a number of reasons, to protect yourself,” he said.

But without enough people getting vaccinated, returning to “normality” and regaining complete control over the virus will be a near-impossible task, Fauci said.

“The only way you’re going to crush this virus is by getting the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated,” he said. “And we are not there yet. But we have got to get there if we want to get this under control.”


Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.