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We're joined live by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and advisor to seven presidents, including Joe Biden. We ask him about the vaccine rollout in Massachusetts and nationally, President Biden's plan to distribute 100 million doses in 100 days, and what his biggest concerns are right now in the pandemic.
On how concerned we should be about new coronavirus variants
"Thankfully, it is now beginning to plateau and the cases are starting to come down a bit, but they're still in a zone that's very troublesome. I mean, where you're having a couple of hundred thousand or between one and two hundred thousand new cases a day, which will always lead to hospitalizations and deaths. So in that respect, that some reasonably good news. But the thing that counters it that is more sobering is that we're now have to deal with mutants, some of which are already in the country. The U.K. has a mutant that looks like it transmits more efficiently. Therefore, more people would get infected. And recently they've come out saying that it is even a bit more deadly in the sense of a greater degree of virulence, which means it can harm you, make you sick or even kill you. We have 22 states in the United States that already have this mutant, and it likely will become dominant in some respects over the next couple of months ...
"But remember, the vaccines that we have work against the wild type virus and also against the mutants. Even though the mutants diminish somewhat the overall efficacy of the vaccine against the South African strain, there's still enough cushion in that. Then overall, the vaccines that are now being distributed in the United States, the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines work against the mutants as well as against the wild type. So the message is, this is all the more reason, when vaccine becomes available to you, to get vaccinated. Because the best way to protect against the evolution of viruses into mutants is to prevent them from replicating. And the way you do that is you diminish the rate of infection in a given country. And that's the reason why the best news is [when a] vaccine becomes available to you, get vaccinated."
On whether we have a vaccine supply problem
"For localities like like Boston and a state like Massachusetts, which has done a really good job in being able to put up a structure to be able to vaccinate, indeed, the supply will not meet the demand because you have the capability. But that's not uniform throughout the country. And I think that's the reason why you see the discrepancy where in some places you have what [Gov. Charlie Baker] just said about needing to get more vaccine because they have slots there to fill and to get people vaccinated. And there are other areas of the country where you vaccine lying around and they don't have the capability of getting it into people's arms.
"We've got to correct that. And in fact, if you listen carefully to what President Biden has said on multiple occasions, is that we're going to do everything we possibly can to increase the availability of vaccines, to use the Defense Production Act, to get the kinds of supplies that are important for the development of vaccines — for the administration of vaccines — to make it as efficient as we possibly can. He's paying attention to that literally on a moment by moment basis. I can tell you that as a fact because we've had multiple conversations with him about that. So where there are problems, we have to fix them. That's the point."
On achieving herd immunity when a good portion of the population is hesitant about getting the vaccine
"When you have 20, 30, 40% of the population somewhat hesitant to get vaccinated, if they don't get vaccinated, that's going to be that much more difficult. It doesn't mean you're not going to get a reasonably good effect of vaccinating people, but it means you're not going to be able to essentially shut down the virus the way herd immunity would allow you to do so.
"The solution to that is to do some serious community outreach to get to the people — particularly among minority populations; understanding and respecting the reasons for their hesitancy, but try to convince them by utilizing people that they trust, people in the community that look like them, that understand them, to go out and to talk about the necessity of getting vaccinated. Not only for your own protection, but for the protection of your family and actually the protection of your entire community."
On his commitment to doing that outreach
"I'm a physician as well as a scientist and a public health official. And I see firsthand the extraordinary and painful disparities in health. It would be really tragic in my mind that the brown and Black people who suffer disproportionately from the disease — for reasons that are understandable but nonetheless are not justifiable now — for them not to afford themselves the protection of a highly efficacious and safe vaccine, it would be doubly painful and tragic for them. They disproportionately suffer from something, and yet they have a tool that can protect them even if they don't utilize that tool, that makes me very sad. And that's the reason why I spend a considerable amount of personal time —a day does not go by where I don't spend a considerable time measured in hours in trying to get the minority communities to get vaccinated ..."
On what he wants people in the Commonwealth and New England to know right now
"So the message is: abide by the public health measures. Don't give up. Don't get discouraged. We all know that there is a degree of understandable fatigue — we refer to it as COVID-19 fatigue. It's there. But things will get better as we get more and more people vaccinated.
"My message to the people of Massachusetts, particularly of Boston, is hang in there because it will improve. But it will improve because we adhere to public health measures and because we get vaccinated. And I have a very special interest; I went to school in Massachusetts [and] my daughter lives in Massachusetts. So go ahead, Massachusetts, and do it right."
This segment aired on January 25, 2021.
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