Dr. Fauci Just Gave This "Sobering" Update on COVID Vaccines
The infectious disease expert has insight on the future of the pandemic.
It's hard to imagine life ever fully returning to the way it was before 2020. The coronavirus has created a new normal for almost all of us, and the pandemic continues to rage on. Of course, that's not to say we haven't come a long way over the last two years. In 2021, people all across the U.S. started to get vaccinated with newly developed COVID vaccines. And since then, officials have worked to expand vaccine eligibility to more age groups, as well as authorize additional shots.
So far, 78.7 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one COVID vaccine shot, while 67.2 percent has been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When it comes to boosters, 48.2 percent of eligible people have gotten their first dose while just 29.7 percent have gotten their second. But that's not the only place where there's room for improvement.
During a July 26 White House forum, Summit on the Future of COVID Vaccines, top COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, said that COVID vaccines have helped prevent more than 2 million deaths and 17 million hospitalizations, while also having saved Americans $900 billion in health care costs through March 2022. The infectious disease expert said this data comes from the Commonwealth Fund, a private U.S. foundation supporting independent healthcare research."That's the good news," Fauci began.
With good news, however, comes not-so-good news. Despite the vaccines, the pandemic remains far from contained, and COVID cases, deaths, and hospitalizations are all "on the rise" in the U.S. this week, driving community transmission levels up to medium or high in 75 percent of counties," according to the CDC. The agency reports that the Omicron subvariant BA.5 is predominantly responsible for this rise, causing an estimated 78 percent of cases in the country.
"BA.5 has fueled the rapid rise in cases since June, suggesting that it spreads more easily than previous Omicron lineage," the CDC explained. At the same time, more vaccinated individuals have been experiencing breakthrough coronavirus cases and reinfections—making it clear that our current COVID vaccines are not effective enough long-term as the virus continues to evolve over time, Fauci acknowledged.
"Since September of 2020, this virus has continued to prove more than a formidable foe. We have multiple variants of concern that we need to deal with. And it's getting more complicated … We have sublineages of sublineages," he said during the forum. "This sobering news is why we're here today—because our job is not done. Innovative approaches are clearly needed to induce broad and durable protection against coronaviruses known and unknown."
Thankfully, efforts to update COVID vaccines are already underway. The forum was held to discuss the next generation of vaccines as manufacturers are planning to release updated shots this fall. Both Moderna and Pfizer are working on reformulated boosters that target the now-dominant Omicron subvariants, and officials are hoping the two vaccine makers can accelerate the release of these updated shots as soon as early to mid-September, The Washington Post reported on July 22.
During the summit, Fauci also discussed the future of COVID vaccines past the fall, noting the importance of eventually developing pan-coronavirus vaccines that target all forms of coronaviruses, or mucosal options that may stop transmission altogether. But amid the BA.5 subvariant's current surge, White House COVID Response Coordinator Ashish Jha, MD, admitted there's one major problem in updating vaccines: getting ahead of this rapidly evolving virus.
"Predicting where the virus is going to go is hard, but so is asking people to get vaccinated two or three times a year. That is a huge challenge," Jha said during the forum. "So we need vaccines that are durable. We need vaccines that offer broader and offer longer lasting protection. We need vaccines that offer protection against multiple variants. Ultimately, we need vaccines that can protect us no matter what mother nature throws at us."