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The Optimal Regimen To Fight COVID Will Be A 3rd Shot For A Boost, Fauci Says

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Several states are dealing with their highest COVID-19 hospitalizations since the beginning of the pandemic. Compared to last year at this time, new daily infections are up 316%. That's according to Johns Hopkins University. So what does all this mean in the fight against COVID, and what is next for potential booster shots? We're going to put those questions to Dr. Anthony Fauci, who joins us now. He's the country's top infectious disease doctor and President Biden's chief medical adviser. Dr. Fauci, welcome back to the program.

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

MARTIN: I want to start with booster shots. The White House said they wanted to roll out vaccine booster shots later this month. This would be for people who are eight months out from their second vaccination shot. Now, officials at the CDC and the FDA say there's not enough data to support a blanket recommendation on COVID boosters. What does that mean?

FAUCI: Well, the program will get rolled out. The question is, as we've said from the very beginning, that we were planning and still are planning to roll out on the week of September the 20, which would be, as you said correctly, about eight months from the time the very first people in this country in January got their first shots of the mRNA vaccine. One of the issues is that there is a bit of a discordance between the companies, in that Pfizer has their data submitted to the FDA, who are evaluating it now for a regulatory approval, which will then ultimately go to the ACIP, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Moderna, the other company, is a bit behind - not much, but a bit behind, which means the rollout - instead of both those occurring simultaneously, there very well may be a bit of a gap, a week or two or so, between the rollout of the two. So that's the discrepancy there. But regard to the final decision - as we've said from the very beginning, that is going to be dependent on the FDA regulatory approval.

MARTIN: But just to reiterate what you've said, folks who got the Pfizer vaccine could end up getting a booster shot sooner than those who got Moderna.

FAUCI: Yes.

MARTIN: And then that leaves - what about people who got the Johnson & Johnson shot? I mean, are they more vulnerable to the delta variant than those who got Pfizer or Moderna?

FAUCI: Well, you know, I wouldn't say more vulnerable, Rachel, because as we've said right now, at least from the data that we're getting in this country, there is a diminution in the protection against infection and mild to moderate disease. But it looks like, at least from our timetable, that protection against severe disease leading to hospitalization is really holding strong right now. We want to stay ahead of the game, and that's the reason why we planned the way we did because we don't want to wait until things start going bad and then make a plan.

MARTIN: Right.

FAUCI: We have a plan right now in order to be ahead of the virus, as opposed to chasing it.

MARTIN: But can I just clarify whether the FDA, the CDC is at all considering recommending a booster for folks who got J&J?

FAUCI: You know, I think ultimately - and I think I'm fairly certain, Rachel - that ultimately we are going to get boosters. And I think very likely, when we look back on this, the proper complete regimen for good full protection will almost certainly be three shots - the first two that we've spoken about and a late third boost several months later. I think in the beginning, what we had to do because it was an emergent situation - we did the first prime, followed by a boost, either three or four weeks later. A lot of lives were saved by that. But when you want to get to the optimal regimen, I believe the optimal regimen will ultimately be that third shot for the boost.

MARTIN: Is there enough supply for all the boosters?

FAUCI: Oh, absolutely. And that was one of the things that was planned well and why we ordered from both companies more than the original order, in order to be able to accommodate both boosts, as well as the younger individuals who had not yet gotten vaccinated from the original rollout.

MARTIN: So can I ask - the current surge in cases is still largely among the unvaccinated. So if that's the case, how will boosters or more doses help the delta variant get under control?

FAUCI: Well, we've got to do two things simultaneously, and we can do that successfully, Rachel. You are absolutely correct. This is still an outbreak, a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And when you look at the percentage of cases, particularly those that wind up with severe consequences leading to hospitalization, it is overwhelmingly among the unvaccinated. Certainly, as you might expect, since no vaccine is 100% protective, that you're going to see breakthrough cases among the vaccinated, but in general, they are usually mild to moderate and not really leading to very severe consequences.

MARTIN: I have to ask when there was all this talk about the boosters, initially, I saw the reaction on Twitter from folks saying, how is it that adults are now going to get three shots of the COVID vaccine when my kids haven't even gotten one? Just in seconds remaining, when is that coming out?

FAUCI: Well, that's going to hopefully come out as we get into the fall because we're doing the studies right now to show safety and immunogenicity in children less than 11 years old.

MARTIN: Dr. Anthony Fauci, we so appreciate you coming on every time you do. Thanks so much for taking the time.

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