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Dr. Fauci Says Vaccines Allow For Less Outdoor Masks


So this feels like a big milestone in the pandemic after a year of being told to mask up pretty much any time we set foot outside our homes. And who better to discuss a big milestone in the pandemic than Dr. Anthony Fauci? He is chief medical adviser to President Biden, and he is here. Dr. Fauci, thanks for being with us again.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Always good to be with you.

KELLY: So this new guidance means we're going to get to see people's faces when we jog past them, when we bike past them. How are you going to interpret it? Will you be out there? I know you have a dog - walking the dog. No mask?

FAUCI: Actually, I am going to - you know, it's very interesting. I - we have felt for some time, obviously, that the risk is minuscule if you are vaccinated and you are out there in the public on a path running. The risk is so, so small. But you want to make sure that you didn't give a bad example. So right now, my own personal thing is that I will be doing what the CDC is saying one can do. If you're fully vaccinated and you're on a walk or a run or a bike, you can do that. And I'm going to be looking forward to doing that.

And I think what we're seeing, Mary Louise, is the first of a series - and actually, it isn't the first, because remember, the recommendation of what you could do in your home with other vaccinated people in the setting of the home was a recommendation from a few weeks ago. And as you and I discussed in a previous interview, that as we get more and more information, which as the CDC, being a science-based organization, likes to get the data before they make these types of recommendations. As we get more and more people vaccinated, and the level of infection gets lower and lower, you're going to see more flexibility in what people who are vaccinated can do. And hopefully, that will encourage more people to get vaccinated, so that they can have this flexibility.

KELLY: To get vaccinated, right. You just called the risk minuscule. What do you say to people who are scared, who would argue variants are still spreading? Most of us are not fully vaccinated yet. Young kids can't get vaccinated. It's too soon. What do you say?

FAUCI: No. I say get vaccinated. That's the point. I mean, if you are vaccinated, then the risk, as I mentioned, is extremely low. And even when you're looking at the dominant variant that's going around, the B117, that the vaccinated people and the antibodies that are elicited by the vaccine are really quite good and protective against the variant. That's the B117. So when people are really concerned, I think we need to be - just make sure they get the information that they need. They get the data.

KELLY: And get the vaccine. What about - I mentioned kids. What about if you cannot vaccinate? How are we doing on getting kids vaccinated?

FAUCI: Well, we're making progress on that. There was a study from Pfizer that showed that children from 12 to 15, when vaccinated, are virtually 100% protected against - in being clinically infected with the COVID-19 virus. We're doing a series of studies now, what's called dose de-escalation, where we're taking children from 12 to 9, then from 9 to 6, then from 6 to 2 years and then six months to 2 years. So we anticipate that we'll be able to vaccinate high school kids as we get into the early fall term of this coming fall term.

KELLY: I was going to ask. So we're talking fall, not summer.

FAUCI: Yeah, no, not summer. I mean, they likely will be able to be vaccinated in the summer if the company gets added to the EUA, the emergency use authorization, the capability of vaccinating high school kids, they'll vaccinate them as soon as they can. And we hope that by the time we get to the end of this calendar year and very, very early part of the first quarter of 2022, we will be able to vaccinate children of any age. So that's certainly on the agenda to get done as soon as we possibly can.

KELLY: I heard your message loud and clear, which is get the vaccine. That has been the message consistently from public health officials these last few months. But a lot of people are not convinced. They are still hesitant. How big a worry is that?

FAUCI: That is true.

KELLY: And is that going to keep us from reaching herd immunity this summer, which I know is a goal you had been hoping we might get to?

FAUCI: Yeah. You know, I hope not, Mary Louise. But what we're doing is that we are now trying to get as much information - we have faith in the American people that when they get the proper information, that they'll be able to make up their mind. And hopefully that will be in the direction that we feel is the best for their health and that of the community. We have a system now called COVID-19 Community Corps, where we have literally thousands of trusted messengers that are respected by people in the community, people like sports figures, entertainment figures, and importantly, the clergy, who were giving enough information for them to go out and try and explain to people why it's important for their own health, for that of their families and for that of the community in general, why it's so important to get vaccinated. So we are really pushing.

KELLY: Do we have any data back on whether that messaging is working?

FAUCI: You know, I can tell you one thing that is working. We had minority communities, particularly African Americans, who had a considerable degree of hesitancy and reluctance. The percentage of the African American community that were hesitant about vaccines is considerably lower now than it was a month and a half, two months ago.

KELLY: I want to ask about how long they are going to protect us, these vaccines. I interviewed you back on January 22. You had just gotten your second dose of vaccine. You got the Moderna. I was looking at the calendar from January, February, March, April. We're three months now. How much do you know about how long that vaccine will protect you, will protect any of us once we're fully vaccinated?

FAUCI: Well, we do know from good studies that follow up that it is at least six months of durability and likely considerably longer. We've been able to identify things that are likely correlates of immunity, which are laboratory tests that you could follow over time. And if they stay above a critical level, you can be pretty sure that you're protected. So that's the way we'll be continuing to follow people month after month after month. And two things could happen. You could get below the critical level, or you could start seeing breakthrough infections. And if you do, then you know you have to give a boost. But we don't know now when that will be.

KELLY: We just have a minute or so left. But it sounds like booster shots are coming one way or the other. I'm thinking of the logistics of trying to roll that out while you're still trying to get the first round of shots into people's arms. Will there be a national plan or stick to state by state?

FAUCI: No. I mean, obviously, it will likely be - continue to do. Our rollout of vaccines was really quite successful. If you look at the numbers now, with 50% of the population having received at least one dose and more than a third being fully vaccinated, I think the plan worked well. We will be prepared to give a booster. We will be prepared if we have to.

KELLY: And again, you're looking at maybe fall before that's necessary because we're protected at least six months is the good news.

FAUCI: Yes, I believe at least. I think maybe beyond, but possibly in the fall.

KELLY: I suppose nobody's been vaccinated for longer than six months because it didn't exist, so here we are (laughter).

FAUCI: Exactly. That's the point. You're absolutely correct, Mary Louise; absolutely correct.

KELLY: All right. Dr. Anthony Fauci. We will leave it there for today. He is chief medical adviser to the Biden administration.

And we thank you, as always, for your time.

FAUCI: Good to be with you. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.