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Could Thanksgiving turn into a superspreader? We'll ask Dr. Fauci

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And we are now joined by Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden.

Dr. Fauci, welcome back to the program.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Thank you, Steve - good to be with you.

INSKEEP: Would you go so far as to tell people maybe not to gather indoors in large numbers this weekend?

FAUCI: Well, again, you've got to be careful, Steve, when you say large numbers. Certainly family gatherings, particularly people who are vaccinated and boosted - and such a large proportion, particularly of the elderly now, have received at least one dose - more than 99%. And 86% or so have received both doses of a double dose. So the elderly seem to be protected. Hopefully they got boosted because we know that the immunity diminishes as months go by. But I would not want to see people just not gathering together with their family, particularly if the family is vaccinated, primarily, and also boosted.

You can take the extra precautions. That was just mentioned very correctly by the guests and by Audrey (ph), about doing something like getting tested, if you want to go that extra step towards being safe. It isn't a requirement that you should not go indoors with anyone unless you're tested. But for those who may be in a situation where you're with people at a higher risk, you might want to take that extra step. So I agree with what people were saying just a moment ago.

INSKEEP: As you know, Dr. Fauci, we're in this circumstance where people have been putting up with restrictions for a very long time. They keep thinking it's over; it's almost over. Even people who accept the science here - have gone out and gotten vaccinated - have begun to be frustrated with some of the restrictions. And, in fact, here in Washington D.C., which is about as democratic a city as there is - so this would not be political in the way that we've seen - Washington D.C. is dropping its mask mandate in many public places. City council objects. The mayor says, I'm going ahead. Is that wise?

FAUCI: Well, again, it adds an extra degree of risk. You really have to balance things. You have to understand - and we totally understand how people feel. But if you look at the dynamics of the virus in the community now, this past week, the average daily case was over 90,000. The hospitalizations are up 29%. The deaths, thank goodness, are down. But they are usually a lagging indicator. The cases, again, and the hospitalizations are both up - cases up 29%, hospitals up 6%. When you have a dynamic like that, Steve, you really got to be careful.

Masks are not going to be forever for sure. The more people that get vaccinated, the more people that get boosted, the lower the level of infection in the community will be. And then you start thinking about pulling back on masks. But you don't want to do it prematurely. As much as you'd like to do it, you've got to be careful.

INSKEEP: What do you think by not forever? What does that mean - maybe through the winter we would still be stuck with masks at a minimum?

FAUCI: It's tough to predict, Steve. When you do, you always get into trouble. I'm hoping as soon as we possibly can. I hope now that we have a situation where we have people who can get primarily vaccinated. We now have boosters for everyone over 18 years old. Children 5 to 11 - 28 million of them - are now eligible. If we do a good job in getting the overwhelming majority of that cohort vaccinated, we very well may have a situation where the cases go down, and we could say no mask. I hope that that's as we get through the winter and into the spring. But you can't guarantee it. This virus has fooled us before. It's a very wily virus, this delta variant.

INSKEEP: You know, I hear from people who say, I had COVID, so I've got natural immunity. And this has become part of the political debate as well, as you know very well, Dr. Fauci. I believe Florida wrote this into state law as a substitute for getting vaccinated, that if you've had COVID, that should qualify. What does the science say on this?

FAUCI: Well, the science says that it is inconsistent, the level of protection. You certainly can have a degree of protection. You don't want to walk away from that. It's the truth. If you get vaccinated and you recover and you have a degree of immunity, you get a good deal of protection. What we don't know is how durable it is. But what we do know, Steve, that's really important - that if you get infected, recover and get that degree of immunity and then get vaccinated, the level of your protection is the highest of any of the situations. So if you really want to be fully protected - better than any kind of vaccination is if you do get infected, to then after that wind up getting vaccinated.

INSKEEP: Oh, so take a moment, or take a - whatever it is - an hour, whatever it takes you to get to the drugstore, wherever you go - go out and get vaccinated if you've had COVID is what you're saying.

FAUCI: I'm saying that if you have had COVID and recovered, you should wait a bit - anywhere from a month to 90 days - but go get vaccinated after that. Yeah, you will dramatically increase your level of protection.

INSKEEP: Dr. Fauci, thanks for the advice - really appreciate it.

FAUCI: Good to be with you, Steve - thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: Dr. Anthony Fauci is the president's chief medical adviser.

(SOUNDBITE OF NORTHCAPE'S "CAPILLARY ACTION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 21, 2021 at 9:00 PM PST
A previous version of the headline misspelled Dr. Anthony Fauci's last name as Fauici.