Fauci: U.S. needs to boost vaccinations to stay ahead in race against COVID-19 variants

Anthony Fauci speaks at the White House on April 16, 2020
Anthony Fauci, M.D., told a Senate panel the U.S. is in a race to vaccinate enough people for COVID-19 to hold off emerging variants of the virus. (C-SPAN)

Top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, M.D., said the challenge the U.S. faces in its fight against COVID-19 is vaccinating enough people to stay ahead of more infectious variants of the virus.

Fauci was among the officials that testified Thursday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on the state of the fight against the pandemic.

Fauci said the country is doing a “good job now of up to 2 to 3 million vaccinations per day.”

“If … more and more people get vaccinated, we can stay ahead of what I would consider a race to vaccinate people and the emergence of variants,” he added.

Several variants of the virus that have been more transmissible have been spreading in the country in recent months. The most prominent circulating in the U.S. is a strain that first emerged in the U.K., which the three vaccines approved in the U.S. protect against.

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However, there are several other strains in circulation that can diminish the fighting capability of the vaccine, said Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“The response to the vaccine has been still robust; there is still a cushion to … prevent severe disease and hospitalizations [from COVID-19],” he added.

The country is currently approaching 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots in arms, which officials said can help ease vaccine hesitancy among the public.

“The most important thing we can all do is when we look at those 100 million is look at the remarkable safety profile,” said David Kessler, M.D., chief science officer for the U.S. COVID-19 response. “I think to date, we can sit here in front of the American public and say these are very safe vaccines.”

But the duration of that safety remains to be seen. Kessler said scientists know the vaccine’s protection is durable for at least six months.

“The reason I use the six-month point is because that is how long first people have been immunized,” he said.

But that durability does appear to exist, Kessler added. There could be a need to boost durability at some point, however, he said.

“We need to make sure we have enough vaccines in the cupboard that are ready to go when we need to do that,” he added.