Dr. Fauci Says This Is More Important Than Getting a Booster Right Now
This is what the COVID adviser sees as the most important next step.
Over the last month, health experts and officials in the U.S. have been split on whether or not booster shots should be provided to those already fully vaccinated. Research has found that the vaccines are not maintaining their initial levels of protection, either as a result of the fast spreading Delta variant or a drop in effectiveness over time. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is still set to approve or deny additional shots soon, but an advisory panel for the agency just declined to recommend boosters for the general public, as some experts say they are not a priority just yet.
For his part, White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, has been a proponent of these additional shots leading up the panel's decision. "There's very little doubt that the boosters will be beneficial," he said during a Sept. 16 interview with Kaiser Health News. "If they say, 'We don't think there's enough data to do a booster,' then so be it. I think that would be a mistake, to be honest with you."
But the adviser now says he ultimately understands why an additional shot was not yet recommended for the general public. "Our highest priority still is getting the unvaccinated vaccinated," Fauci told Chuck Todd during a Sept. 19 interview for NBC News' Meet the Press.
He added, "And there should be no confusion about that. The highest priority is not getting boosters. We think it's important to get boosters to people, but the overwhelming highest priority is to vaccinate the unvaccinated."
The U.S. has fully vaccinated nearly 55 percent of its total population, per the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to a speech from President Joe Biden on Sept. 9, this leaves about 80 million people eligible for the vaccine still unvaccinated.
"While the vaccines provide strong protection for the vaccinated, we read about and hear about and we see the stories of hospitalized people, people on their death beds among the unvaccinated over the past few weeks," Biden said. "This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated."
But Fauci also confirmed that he does not see booster shots as a "luxury," but rather the optimal way to get durable protection, which "may ultimately turn out to be the proper regimen."
"The reason we started with two doses [was that] we were in an emergency situation. We needed to get vaccines out to people to be lifesaving. And in fact, they have likely saved millions of lives already. That doesn't mean that's the end of what this regimen should be," Fauci explained. "And on a week by week, month by month basis, as we gather more data, we may get a better concept of what the proper regimen will be."
The FDA's advisory panel did recommend boosters for two specific groups of people, however. According to their recommendation, additional shots should be given to those 65 and older or otherwise at high risk for severe COVID, whether that's due to underlying medical conditions or working at a front-line job, like health care workers and first responders. If the FDA chooses to align its approval with the committee's decision as it usually does, third doses could be given to these groups soon, per The New York Times.
"That's a fair chunk of people in the United States," Fauci said. "So we look at it as one phase of the rollout … I believe as a scientist who's been following it that, ultimately, the real proper regimen will turn out to be the original two shots, plus a boost."