For someone who has been trying to save people from getting sick from coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the President and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is often treated like the enemy. But: “The enemy is the virus,” he insists. Fauci joined STAT’s Helen Branswell at the 2021 STAT Summit to discuss the past year and what to expect in the months ahead—and when doing so, he had a message to anyone who has still refused to get a vaccine. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
Regarding people who still refuse to get vaccinated, Dr. Fauci said: “It is painful and frustrating to me as a public health person, as a physician who takes care of people and sees firsthand what disease and death is repetitively….It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s almost inexplicable, but it is what we are dealing with. So if you look at the unvaccinated, not every one of the unvaccinated are people who are diehards, ‘I’m just not going to get vaccinated.’ There are those who still don’t have as much information as they need to make a decision. There are some who feel it’s inconvenient to get vaccinated. So what are the things we can do? Short of mandate, we can continue to try to utilize what I call when everybody calls trusted messengers to deliver the message of why it’s important. Particularly people who’ve been vaccinated, who they trust clergy, physicians, pediatricians, family members, that’s number one.”
“The other is a situation where they are unanswered questions and it’s up to us to answer the questions, to continue to keep them getting data that’s real data,” said Dr. Fauci. “Then there’s the issue, as we set up mandates, we understand that people don’t like to be told by anybody to do something that they may not want to do, but there is something that people need to realize when they just think about it. You are not in a vacuum when you are in the middle of a pandemic, you are part of a community. And even if you feel it doesn’t matter if you get infected because you feel well, I’ll take my chances. Particularly if I’m young, the likelihood of my getting a serious outcome is not very high, but it doesn’t stop with you because you are part of the propagation of the dynamics of the outbreak.”
“And even though you may not get seriously ill,” he said, “then you could spread it to someone else who might be one of the people will get hospitalized and become one of the 750,000 people in this country have died. So you’ve got to have some feeling and obligation of societal responsibility, which somehow has been lost in this equation on people. It’s like, we’re only worried about somebody telling them what they should do that they don’t want to do. Well, you know, you live in a society and we’re all interconnected. The thing that is the most troubling of all, and this is something we’ve been dealing with for some time is when people don’t get vaccinated purely on political ideology. And that is a truth. We can’t escape from that. I mean, if you look at the map and you divide the red states, the blue states, and you see who’s under vaccinated where most of the infections are and there among unvaccinated and the unvaccinated are clearly much more predominant in the …red states.
“So, as a public health official, I stay completely out of the politics of it. I don’t care what you are, Democrat, Republican, independent. It doesn’t really matter. The thing that matters is the common enemy, which is the virus, and it just doesn’t make any sense to be essentially fighting with each other, where we should be fighting with a common enemy. And that’s the reason why I am in favor of mandates. I know I get a lot of hate mail and a lot of zinging on the social media, but I feel that we do everything we can to get people to voluntarily be part of the solution and get out of the way of being part of the problem. And if they don’t want to do that, that’s where I think we’ve got to step in and do mandates.”
As for mandates at school, he says, “that’s a little bit more of a sensitive issue, particularly when you’re dealing, you know, we’re at an EUA”—emergency use authorization—”for many of the kids you want to see more cumulation of safety. I think ultimately it might be the case and I would not be against if—one of the things that people forget is that if you are saying things on principle, then you need to be consistent with your principles and children require, are required to get vaccinated for a lot of other things. And it’s really interesting if you look at the statistics, Helen, is that some of the diseases that we require vaccines for, and that requirement is generally accepted throughout the country or for diseases that cause for less deaths among children, then SARS-CoV-2, which has already led to over 700 deaths among children, close to 100 in children five to 11. So there’s an inconsistency. There are people say, no, I don’t want anybody to tell me to have the kids, you know, be mandated. Well, look at what we do anyway in school, right?”
Fauci hopes vaccine resistance doesn’t extend to other vaccines.
“That troubles me greatly,” Fauci said of that prospect. “And I’ll tell you why, because we have experience of what happens when you do that. You recall cause you and I discussed this years ago, that in certain places in California and in upper region in Westchester, above New York city, when there were pockets of people in a closed community where the measles vaccination percentage went way below the required more than 90%. And there were substantial outbreaks of measles in the New York area. That’s what happens when parents decide they don’t want to get their children vaccinated against measles. If you do that with all of the childhood vaccinations that are now required in school, we could be in a really serious situation without breaks of diseases that long ago should have been eliminated in our society. We just can’t have that.”
So follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don’t travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don’t go indoors with people you’re not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.
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