Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Biden’s chief medical advisor, spoke with the Amsterdam News for a Q&A about the status of the COVID-19 pandemic and the bivalent booster shot. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
AmNews: Where are we with respect to COVID-19 and the bivalent COVID booster right now?
It’s a really complicated issue because in general the number of cases that we’re experiencing is considerably lower than what it was when we were having the massive number of cases several months to a year ago where we were having 800,000 to 900,000 cases a day and 3,000 to 4,000 deaths per day we’re down now to between 45,000 and 50,000 cases a day and about 350 to 400 deaths, however what is concerning is that in certain regions of the country we’re starting to see a bit of an uptick in cases even though in general when you look at the map of the United States on the CDC website it’s mostly green and yellow; about 97% of the country is mostly green and some yellow which means that the level of infection is low but there are areas of the country where it’s starting to uptick.
So as we get deeper into the colder weather of the late fall and early winter, we’re having the conflation of other infections including flu which is coming early and RSV which is much earlier than it usually occurs. RSV usually is a January, February, December kind of infection. We’re seeing the emergency rooms and the pediatric beds and ICUs are being challenged by the number of children with RSV and RSV also can attack adults, particularly elderly adults and hospitalize them so we’re in for a reasonably tough winter unless we start doing things like getting a lot more people vaccinated and boosted with COVID vaccines but also we’ve got to get more people vaccinated with flu vaccines because the number of flu vaccines at this time of the year is less than it was in previous years which we’ve got to catch up on that.
AmNews: The number of people taking advantage of the bivalent COVID booster is less than anticipated by public health experts. Does that cause you concern?
It’s of great concern to me because as I mentioned we’re entering into a cold season where you have the likelihood of a higher level and greater degree of respiratory infections. We have a booster that’s matched to the circulating strain which is the Ba5. Even though the sublineages are catching up like BQ1 and BQ1.1 and BA 4.6. Nonetheless, those are sublineages of BA5 which means that if you get a bivalent booster, you likely will be protected against the others and it just seems unfortunate at best that we’re not utilizing it.
AmNews: Please discuss your thoughts about the effectiveness of COVID mandates?
Well it’s unfortunate that sometimes you have to turn to mandates. I fundamentally don’t like mandates, I like to convince people right that it is common sense and good public health practice to do things like wear a mask under certain circumstances, to avoid indoor congregate settings and things like that so I try to appeal more to people in common sense and concern for their own safety and that of their family and those around us as opposed to mandates.
AmNews: Is there anything else you’d like to tell the Amsterdam News readers?
Just another pitch to tell them please look at the differences in hospitalizations and deaths for those who are vaccinated and boosted versus those who are either unvaccinated or vaccinated and not boosted. There is very significant difference in that the hospitalizations and deaths very heavily weighted towards either unvaccinated or people who are vaccinated but failed to get their boosters.
For more information regarding vaccines and boosters in New York City, please go to www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-vaccines.page. These and other resources can also be accessed on the AmNews COVID-19 page: https://amsterdamnews.com/covid/