Top infectious disease official Anthony Fauci said yesterday that Americans who are immune compromised may end up needing coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccine booster shots as the United States deals with increasing cases from the highly-infectious Delta variant.
“Those who are transplant patients, cancer chemotherapy, auto-immune diseases, that are on immunosuppressant regimens, those are the kind of individuals that if there’s going to be a third booster, which might likely happen, would be among first the vulnerable,” he said during a CNN interview.
Fauci added that health officials are also considering whether to revise mask guidance for vaccinated Americans saying it was “under active consideration”.
Citing studies that show there might be waning immunity in vaccinated people, he said US health officials are reviewing data to determine when boosters might be needed.
“It’s a dynamic situation. It’s a work in progress, it evolves like in so many other areas of the pandemic,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s State of the Union. “You’ve got to look at the data.”
He also emphasised that local governments can issue their own rules under current guidance from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Los Angeles county and St Louis, Missouri, have reinstated indoor mask requirements and other cities are weighing whether to do the same.
After a significant drop in Covid-19 cases because of the national vaccine campaign, infections are rising in all 50 states and Washington, DC.
The increases are highest in states with large groups of unvaccinated people.
Last week, Israel’s health ministry reported a decrease in the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine in preventing infections and symptomatic illness.
However, it added that the two-dose Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer with partner BioNTech still remained effective in preventing severe illness.
The decline in efficacy coincided with the spread of the Delta variant, now the dominant strain in Israel.
Israel is administering third doses of the vaccine to immunocompromised people, including those who have had heart, lung, kidney or liver transplants and cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.
The Delta variant, which was first detected in India, is driving up infections in the United States.
The sharpest increases in Covid-19 cases are in places with lower vaccination rates.
Florida, Texas and Missouri account for 40% of all new cases nationwide, with around one in five of all new US cases occurring in Florida, White House adviser Jeffrey Zients said last week.
Pfizer and BioNTech said on Friday that the United States had purchased 200mn more doses of their vaccine to help with paediatric vaccination as well as possible booster shots.
More than 610,000 have died from Covid-19 in the US.
At White House on Thursday, Surgeon-General Vivek Murthy said that 97% of hospital admissions and 99.5% of Covid-19 deaths were occurring among unvaccinated people.
More than 162.7mn Americans are vaccinated – or 49% of the population, according to the CDC.
Fauci said at the CNN interview that local leaders, particularly in areas with low rates of vaccination, needed to lead outreach efforts to get people vaccinated.
He highlighted recent work by two prominent Republicans who have repeatedly criticised him: a Louisiana representative, Steve Scalise, and the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis.
“I was very heartened to hear people like Steve Scalise come out and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get vaccinated,’” Fauci said. “Even Governor DeSantis right now in Florida is saying the same thing.”
“We’ve got to get more people who relate well to the individuals who are not getting vaccinated to get out there and encourage them to get vaccinated,” he added.
Among those reporting that they definitely won’t get vaccinated, 23% are Republican, 16% are independent, and 2% are Democrats, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation vaccine monitor.
DeSantis sells merchandise which mocks masks and Fauci, but cases in Florida are the highest they have been since January.
“These vaccines are saving lives,” DeSantis said last week.
Scalise, the House Republican whip, was vaccinated last week and told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that he had waited because he thought he had some immunity from an earlier Covid-19 infection.
However, the rise of the Delta variant appeared to sway him.
“When you talk to people who run hospitals, in New Orleans or other states, 90% of people in hospital with Delta variant have not been vaccinated,” he said. “That’s another signal that the vaccine works.”
From Missouri, a local mayor told CBS’s Face the Nation some prominent local figures were still speaking out against the vaccine.
“We continue to have to push back against negative messaging,” said Quinton Lucas, mayor of Kansas City.
He said the focus in Kansas City was on getting people vaccinated and that his city did not currently have plans to re-introduce mask requirements, though it was something he had considered.
“I think every mayor in a major city in America is wondering if it is time to return to mandates,” Lucas said.
Jerome Adams, the US surgeon-general under Donald Trump, told CBS that the CDC should change guidance to vaccinate and mask in places with lower vaccination rates, an argument he also made in an editorial for the Washington Post.
He wrote that he initially agreed with the CDC’s guidance in May that vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks, hoping it would encourage vaccinations.
“In hindsight, it’s clear that the message many Americans heard was that, vaccinated or not, masks were gone for good,” Adams wrote.
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