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Fauci: Global Priority Should Be Administering 1st COVID-19 Vaccine Doses, Not Booster Shots

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Pfizer met with health officials on Monday to discuss adding a third shot to its COVID-19 vaccine regimen, but the data didn’t change Dr. Anthony Fauci’s mind about boosters.

This week, Israel started administering booster shots to its most immunocompromised citizens, including transplant and cancer patients. While the decision isn’t “unreasonable,” it’s still not the right time to focus on boosters, says Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical advisor.

“If you look at the big picture of the global response to this outbreak, the global response to COVID-19, you have to think carefully about giving a third shot to people to prevent asymptomatic infection,” he says, “when most of the world has not received their first shot that might protect them against serious consequences and death.”

The meeting was called so health officials could look over the pharmaceutical company’s data around booster shots, Fauci says, and no major decisions were made.

In the last seven days, the U.S. has averaged more than 19,000 new coronavirus cases a day. That’s close to a 50% increase from last week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Epidemiologists say the majority of those cases are coming from just five states: Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri and Nevada. Hospitalizations are also on the rise, and when it comes to COVID-19-related deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Rochelle Walensky says 99% of those in June were people who didn’t get the vaccine.

Fauci says he’s not concerned about another nationwide surge in cases, but rather spikes in places with low vaccination levels.

“The reason that that occurs, obviously, is that we know the vaccines are highly protective against the virus, including the Delta variant of the virus,” he says. “But in those areas of the country where the vaccination level is low — somewhere around 30% — they are the most vulnerable.”

Across the country, the rate of vaccination is down 84% from its peak in April. People choosing not to get vaccinated is resulting in a continuous level of infection, Fauci says.

After cases surged nationwide during the fall and winter spike, the number of infections dropped significantly. But now, many Americans are still not vaccinated as the more contagious Delta variant becomes dominant, he says.

“It’s entirely predictable,” he says. “If you don’t get people vaccinated and you have a variant that has a high degree of capability of transmitting from person to person, you’re going to see a diminution in the decline and an increase in the incline of cases.”

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it’s adding a warning label to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine following reports linking it to 100 cases of the neurological disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome. Fauci says rare cases like this will “inevitably happen” but need to be put in perspective.

“It always comes out that the benefit of the vaccine itself to protect against the disease outweighs any small risk of an adverse event,” he says.

Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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