Dr. Fauci Just Gave This Sobering Update About COVID This Winter

The virus expert just offered a new prediction for the next few months of the pandemic.

COVID numbers hit at an all-time high in the U.S. this past summer, largely brought on by slowing vaccination rates and the fast-spreading Delta variant. But with the summer months now in the rearview mirror, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have significantly declined over the last few months. In early October, daily COVID cases dropped below 100,000 for the first time since early August, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. At the same time, the country's steps forward with the pandemic might not continue on into the winter months.

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During a Nov. 8 interview with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, discussed the current COVID situation and what the pandemic might look like as the U.S. heads into the winter. According to Fauci, "things are going in the right direction with the diminution of cases, hospitalizations and deaths," but it's not all good news.

"The steepness of the deflection is not as good as it was, let's say, a month or so ago … it's down to a lower number," Fauci explained. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), new coronavirus cases are only down by around 1 percent for the week of Nov. 5, despite declining by more than 7 percent just a week prior.

As a result, both Fauci and other health officials are worried that the upcoming winter weather could bring about even less of a decline, or worse, another rise in COVID cases. According to these experts, winter holidays and cold weather are likely to bring about more travel and indoor gatherings, where viruses like COVID can spread more easily. But there is a way to avoid increased transmission, even as winter hits.

"As we go into the winter months with the challenge of a respiratory infection being worse in the winter months, we can get through this if we really put a lot of effort into getting as many people vaccinated as we possibly can," Fauci told NPR. But the virus expert warned that the U.S. still "need[s] to do better" in terms of adolescent vaccination rates. According to the CDC, only 58.4 percent of U.S. adults and adolescents are fully vaccinated, which leaves more than 60 million still unvaccinated despite being eligible.

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There is still good news, however. According to Fauci, recent authorization for children to get vaccinated is "something that's in our favor." On Nov. 2, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, officially signed off on children ages 5 to 11 getting Pfizer's pediatric vaccine. Fauci urged parents to get their kids vaccinated, noting that data shows "really good efficacy and really good safety profile."

"I would tell the parents: Although it is less likely for a child to get a serious result from infection than in adults, particularly an elderly adult, it is not something that's trivial with children," Fauci said. And with around 28 children now eligible to receive the vaccine, Erin Carlson, DrPH, director of graduate public health programs at the University of Texas at Arlington, told KERA News that vaccinating children will also play a significant role in curbing transmission.

Fauci said that the development of anti-COVID pills may also help the pandemic into the winter. Two companies, Merck and Pfizer, have made recent advancements with their antiviral pill developments. In early October, Merck submitted an application to the FDA for its pill, but it is still awaiting federal authorization. Pfizer is set to submit its own application soon, according to the manufacturer, after releasing data showing that its pill reduces the risk of hospitalization and death among high-risk adults with COVID by 89 percent within three days of symptom onset.

"The results were really quite striking," Fauci told NPR, referencing Pfizer's data. But he said pills still aren't a substitute for vaccines. "The best way traditionally—not only with COVID-19, but with any infection—it is always, always better to prevent it than to have to worry about treating it."

Even increased vaccinations won't necessarily get rid of the virus in the U.S. altogether either. But that's not the goal anymore, according to Fauci.

"We're looking for a level of control … where the level of infection—due to vaccination predominantly, but also people who may have been infected and have some degree of protection—that doesn't disrupt society the way the COVID-19 outbreak is currently doing with us," Fauci said.

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