The US will soon see surges in cases of the highly infectious Delta variant of Covid-19 in areas where vaccination rates are low, Anthony Fauci has predicted, calling resistance to vaccination “sad” and “tragic”.
Such resistance is particularly strong among Republicans: a Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Sunday found that 86% of Democrats but only 45% of Republicans have received at least one shot.
The same poll found that a third of adults who had not had a shot said they would not or probably would not get one. Of those respondents, nearly three-quarters said officials like Fauci were exaggerating the risk posed by the Delta variant. A little more than three-quarters believed they had little or no risk of contracting Covid-19.
The Biden administration has trumpeted the success of its vaccination campaign, with 66.8% of US adults having received at least one dose by 1 July and 54.6% of all Americans having received at least one shot. But a target of 70% of adults with at least one shot by 4 July was expected to be missed.
More than 605,000 have died in the US. The Delta variant is present in at least 98 countries. On Saturday, the director general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that vaccine availability was being “outpaced by variants”.
Fauci, Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, has served seven presidents since 1984 as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He was speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press in an interview broadcast in full on Sunday.
Asked if the Delta variant was more lethal than others and if he was concerned it could cause a spike in cases as society reopens, he said: “I don’t think you’re going to be seeing anything nationwide, because fortunately we have a substantial proportion of the population vaccinated. So it’s going to be regional.”
Fauci, 80, came to increased prominence in the Trump administration, when he was frequently at odds with a mercurial president. Two Washington Post reporters’ account of Trump’s pandemic response – titled Nightmare Scenario – was published this week. It details attacks on Fauci from insiders including economic advisers Stephen Moore and Peter Navarro, and threats from Trump supporters that led to Fauci being assigned official protection.
Speaking to NBC, Fauci said Americans could be confused as Delta cases rise.
“We’re going to see … almost two types of America,” he said. “You know, those regions of America which are highly vaccinated and we have a low level of dynamics of infection. And in some places, some states, some cities, some areas, where the level of vaccination is low and the level of virus dissemination is high – that’s where you’re going to see the spikes.”
Biden addressed the danger of the Delta variant on Friday.
“I am concerned that people who have not gotten vaccinated have the capacity to catch the variant and spread the variant to other people who haven’t been vaccinated,” he said. “I’m not concerned there’s going to be a major outbreak … another epidemic nationwide. But I am concerned lives will be lost.”
Fauci told NBC that of nearly 10,000 US deaths in June, “about 99.2% are unvaccinated. About 0.8% are vaccinated. No vaccine is perfect. But when you talk about the avoidability of hospitalisation and death, it’s really sad and tragic that most of these are avoidable and preventable.
“… Obviously there are going to be some people, because of the variability among people and their response to vaccine, that you’ll see some who are vaccinated and still get into trouble and get hospitalised and die. But the overwhelming proportion of people who get into trouble are the unvaccinated. Which is the reason why we say this is really entirely avoidable and preventable.”
Elsewhere, the director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, told Politico resistance to vaccines among evangelical Christians was “heartbreaking”.
“It’s heartbreaking that it’s come to this over something that is potentially lifesaving and yet has been so completely colored over by political views and conspiracies that it’s impossible to have a simple loving conversation with your flock,” said Collins, himself a devout Christian.
“That is a sad diagnosis of the illness that afflicts our country, and I’m not talking about Covid-19. I’m talking about polarisation, tribalism even within what should be the loving community of a Christian church.”
On NBC, Fauci was asked about this “clear political divide”. Calling the coronavirus a “formidable enemy”, he said: “We do have a countermeasure that’s highly, highly effective, that’s the reason why it’s all the more sad and all the more tragic why it isn’t being completely implemented in this country.
“And whatever the reasons, some of them are ideologic, some of them are just fundamentally anti-vax or anti-science or what have you. But, you know, we just need to put that aside now. We’re dealing with a historic situation with this pandemic. And we do have the tools to counter it. So for goodness’ sakes, put aside all of those differences and realise that the common enemy is the virus. And we have a tool, a highly effective tool against this virus.
“And we in our country are very fortunate. We have enough vaccines to vaccinate essentially everybody in the country. And there are people throughout the world who would do anything to get vaccines.”
On Saturday, Dame Sarah Gilbert, an Oxford professor who led development of the AstraZeneca vaccine, told the Observer moves to vaccinate children in richer countries should be balanced against the need to extend access to adults worldwide.
“We have to balance what we think about vaccinating children in high-income countries with vaccinating the rest of the world because we need to stop transmission of this virus globally,” Gilbert said.