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Fauci: It Would Be Terrible If People Choose Not To Get COVID-19 Vaccine

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

COVID-19 has now killed more than 300,000 Americans. We reached that terrible milestone yesterday, on the same day the first vaccine was administered here in the U.S. A nurse at a Queens hospital named Sandra Lindsay got that shot at a public event yesterday.

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SANDRA LINDSAY: I feel like healing is coming. I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history.

MARTIN: The beginning of the end, she says there. Dr. Anthony Fauci joins us again. He's the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH. He will also be President-elect Joe Biden's chief medical adviser. Dr. Fauci, welcome back to the program.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Thank you. Good to be with you.

MARTIN: Does it feel like the beginning of the end to you?

FAUCI: You know, it does in some respects. It's bittersweet. We have now the beginning of what will ultimately be the endgame of this pandemic - namely vaccinating people, not only as many people as possible in the United States but globally. But still, at the same time, on the same day, you mentioned the terrible landmark of now 300,000 Americans have died, and we have still a raging outbreak that we need to get under control. So at the same time as we're administering the vaccine as quickly and as expeditiously as possible, we still have to implement the public health measures to prevent the surges that we're seeing throughout the country. So it's really bittersweet.

MARTIN: I was going to say that word, bittersweet, as you no doubt watched Sandra Lindsay get that first vaccination.

FAUCI: Yes, indeed.

MARTIN: She's a Black woman. She said afterward that she wanted to inspire people who look like me by getting the vaccine. How worried are you about hesitancy to take the vaccine among some groups of people?

FAUCI: You know, Rachel, I am really concerned about that, and that's the reason why I'm spending a considerable amount of time outreaching throughout the country, but also specifically to minority populations. And as I've said - and I will get vaccinated myself publicly to essentially put aside the concern that some people have about safety and about whether we went too fast, which we did not. The speed is really a reflection of the scientific advances that have allowed us to do things in a matter of months that would have formerly taken years. And that's the reason why we have a vaccine now in less than one year from the time the virus was identified. That isn't reckless speed; that's sufficient speed based on scientific advances.

And we've got to convince people that that's the case because it would be terrible to have a vaccine - which is extraordinarily efficacious. Ratio is 94% to 95% efficacious in preventing clinical disease. It would be terrible, with a tool as good as that, if people don't utilize that tool.

MARTIN: I imagine, though, you're going to have to tailor that message. I mean, when you assume your role in the Biden administration, how are you going to address different populations? Because it's not just African Americans who historically...

FAUCI: No.

MARTIN: ...Have been abused by the federal medical system. Latinos in this country are skeptical for their own reasons. A lot of white Americans who just don't believe in vaccines. How do you tailor the message?

FAUCI: Well, you do. You have to tailor it. You have to have people engage at the community level. And the people that will be engaging were people that look like people who you're trying to convince, that have the life experiences of those people. You've got to tailor the message, but also have the messenger be able to relate very clearly to the target population.

You're absolutely right. It isn't only African Americans. It's Latinx and many white people feel the same way. We've got to get the message across and explain to them what their hesitancy is and what their reluctance is and try and reason as to why they're understandable, but they're really not based on facts. If you look at what goes on historically with vaccines, overwhelmingly they are the safest and most effective interventions in medicine when it comes to infectious diseases. We've got to keep trying to get that message out because it's to the benefit of the individual, but to the benefit of the entire society.

MARTIN: How many Americans, Dr. Fauci, need to get vaccinated before we start noticing an impact on infection rates?

FAUCI: Well, I mean, I would say 50% would have to get vaccinated before you start to see an impact. But I would say 75% to 85% ratio would have to get vaccinated if you want to have that blanket of herd immunity - namely, so many people getting vaccinated that the virus really doesn't have any place to go. Essentially, what we did with measles in this country, what we did with polio in this country - if you get that level of herd immunity, you could essentially crush this outbreak in this country. But it's going to take a lot of effort to get that relative percentage of people to get vaccinated. And hopefully we'll be able to do that before the end of the year.

We're starting to roll out, you know, the primary individuals - namely, health care providers like the nurse that you just mentioned - as well as people who are in facilities such as nursing homes. But once you get beyond that, you have people who are essential personnel. You get students. You get elderly. You get those with underlying conditions. And then hopefully by the time we get to, let's say, the end of March, the beginning of April, we'll be vaccinating people who otherwise are what we'd say normal population, don't have any underlying conditions. That would prioritize them. Once we get there, if in the subsequent months - April, May, June, July - we get as many people vaccinated as possible, we could really turn this thing around before we get towards the end of the year.

MARTIN: In just seconds, do you have any concerns about the distribution and rollout we're going to see in the next couple weeks?

FAUCI: Well, you know, the concern is when you have such an enormous enterprise going on - you know, there are always glitches. We just want to keep our fingers crossed that the distribution gets done smoothly and equitably.

MARTIN: Do - you said that you are going to get the vaccine. You're going to do it publicly. Have you scheduled that yet, Dr. Fauci?

FAUCI: Not yet, but I'm going to do it as soon as I possibly can because I've always said, I want people to understand that I am very confident in this vaccine. And several people have said that they would get vaccinated if they saw I got vaccinated, and that's the reason why I want to do that as quickly as we can.

MARTIN: Dr. Anthony Fauci, we appreciate you taking the time. Thanks again.

FAUCI: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.