The United States could be in for yet another wave of Covid-19 infections unless Americans continue to receive vaccines and booster shots, White House chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci has said.
Speaking to CBS News’ Face the Nation on Sunday, Dr Fauci warned that the next few weeks will be crucial for determining whether the US can stem the tide of new cases and the deaths that could result from a fifth wave.
“We certainly have the potential to go into a fifth wave,” he said. “And the fifth wave, or the magnitude of any increase, if you want to call it that it will turn into a wave, will really be dependent upon what we do in the next few weeks to a couple of months.”
Dr Fauci, who has served as director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases since the Reagan administration, said the course of the pandemic will largely turn on whether the 62 million Americans who’ve chosen to not receive a Covid-19 vaccine change their minds, as well as whether the millions who recieved vaccines earlier this year return to get booster shots.
“If we have a combination of getting as many people as we can get vaccinated as possible who have not yet gotten vaccinated, add on to it the children who are now eligible, the 5 to 11, there’s 28 million of those, and getting the many, many people now, 70% of the entire population of adults has been vaccinated, about 80% has been vaccinated. If we do that successfully in a very intensive way, we can mitigate any increase,” he said.
“If we now do what I’m talking about in an intense way, we may be able to blunt that. If we don’t do it successfully, it is certainly conceivable and maybe likely that we will see another bit of a surge. How bad it gets is dependent upon us and how we mitigate.”
Dr Fauci also said US pharmaceutical manufacturers are “preparing” to update Covid-19 vaccines to respond to the new Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, but “may not have to” during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press.
The veteran virologist told host Chuck Todd that the decision on whether or not to revise formulation of the current Covid-19 vaccines will depend on whether researchers in South Africa — where Omicron was first identified — can determine the extent to which the current vaccines are effective against it.
“The critical questions now are do the antibodies block this well and what is the seriousness of the disease?” he said. “There are enough people right now in South Africa that our South African colleagues are following to determine is this highly transmissible but doesn’t really give us severe disease or does it give the kind of severity we’ve seen with Delta and the other variants”.
“All of these are gaps in our knowledge, and we are going to find out really quickly,” he added.
Dr Fauci also stressed that the mRNA and viral vector vaccines manufactured by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson — the three that have received authorisation from the Food and Drug Administration — are easily modifiable to match a new variant.
At a June press conference with President Joe Biden, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said his company could have a revised Covid-19 vaccine ready for use within 100 days of identification of a new “escape variant” that could evade the current vaccines.
Vaccines such as Pfizer’s and Moderna’s use Messenger RNA technology, which can be quickly adapted to produce vaccines for new variants.
Last month, Moderna senior vice president and head of infectious disease research Jacquleline Miller told Nature that her company was submitting test cases using vaccines developed to block the Beta and Delta variants of SARS-CoV-2 to the Food and Drug Administration to “establish a process” by which new variant-specific vaccines could hit the streets faster.
“If there’s another strain that evolves those mutations in the future, we can capitalise on what we’ve already learned from studying the Beta variant,” she said.
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