Our "Skimm This" podcast team talked to Dr. Anthony Fauci – aka the nation’s top infectious disease expert who’s been talking to everyone about COVID-19 for the last 1.5 years – to discuss the latest questions on our minds. Like why the Biden admin issued a sweeping vaccine mandate for federal employees and large companies, and when the US could reach herd immunity.
Keep reading to check out the full interview. Or you can hear it on this week’s episode of "Skimm This." And scroll down to the bottom to read through Dr. Fauci's lightning-round answers (including which vaccine myth he's tired of hearing).
The president announced new vaccine mandates for federal workers and large companies. Why take such a sweeping and rigid approach?
“I would say it's sweeping, but I don't think it's rigid. There's no doubt that the solution...that we have at our hands is vaccines. They are highly effective and safe. We can get out of this [pandemic] by the overwhelming majority of the population getting vaccinated.
“We've tried everything. We've made the vaccines readily available, safe, free, and they work. We've gotten trusted messengers out there to convince people to get vaccinated. Yet, there [are] about 75 million people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not gotten vaccinated. This has turned into a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Now, we don't want to see people suffer just because they didn't want to get vaccinated, but it also spills over to the vaccinated people. Because if you have so many people spreading the virus, we're not going to get back to the normal that we all crave.
“Let me give you an example: [On Sept 9], there were 164,000 infections in the United States. That is not where we want to be. And the only way you get out of that is by getting people vaccinated. And if that means mandating vaccines for some people, then so be it. We may have to go that route. And that's what the president decided. And I actually was very much in favor of that myself.”
What would you say to people who think these mandates are government overreach?
“It's overreach when you do it without giving the opportunity [for] an individual to voluntarily do something that's quite appropriate. But when you're in almost a desperate situation, we've got to get the numbers down. There have been [more than] 650,000 deaths of people in the United States. This is a public health crisis, and sometimes crises require unusual actions.”
PS: Learn more about whether employers can mandate vaccines here.
If we follow through on these mandates, does that get us to herd immunity? And if so, when are we talking?
“If we get the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated, we will get to herd immunity. We will, there's no doubt about that. But we're not there yet. We've got to do much, much better.
“...It will happen when we do it. If we do it in the next six months, it will happen in the next six months. If we do it in the next two months, it will happen in the next two months…I think we've had enough of this particular virus. Unfortunately, the virus hasn't had enough of us, so we've got to turn the tables.”
Would you support a vaccine mandate for airline travel?
“I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people, that you should be vaxxed.”
Would you support vaccine mandates for public schools?
“Certainly, as long as the person is eligible to be vaccinated…Some people say, oh my goodness, that would be terrible to [impose a vaccine mandate for students]. But we already do that – and have been doing that for decades and decades and decades…The school I went to, you had to be vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella, polio, or otherwise you couldn't go to school. So it is not something new to mandate vaccines for school children.”
What about a country-wide vaccine passport?
“The answer is optimally, that would be a good thing. But there would be so much pushback on that, because it would be that you're discriminating against people who are not vaccinated. But you know, there are local enterprises that are requiring it [like] New York City.”
What's the biggest mistake you think you've made since the start of the pandemic?
“If I knew what I know now, in the very, very beginning, when there was under-the-radar-screen spread of the virus, and we didn't realize it. I would have recommended being much more aggressive in every way: in shutdowns and masks and everything else. Because it was spreading – we didn't realize that it spread asymptomatically so easily.”
What's a vaccine myth you're tired of hearing about?
“That Bill Gates and I put a chip in the vaccine and we're going to follow you around and just control your thoughts.”
What's one thing you would say to pregnant women who are hesitant to get vaccinated?
“Please get vaccinated. Because getting COVID-19 when you're pregnant could be devastating to you and to your fetus.”
When should I, or anyone, get their booster shot?
“As soon as it becomes available by the regulatory authority of the FDA and the recommendation of the CDC.”
Do you know when your booster shot is gonna be?
“I don't, but when it's available, I will definitely get it.”
What country outside of the United States do you think has done a good job handling the pandemic?
“Australia, New Zealand, Israel.”
What's something you're most excited to do when the pandemic is over?
“Meet in the same room with my three daughters and have a real fun little dinner together.”
Where do you keep your vaccine card?
“I keep it in a folder on my desk in my office.”
Do you have a digital one?
“No, I don't. I have a plain old paper card.”
Skimm’d by Maria Martinolich, Kamini Ramdeen, Alex Carr, Rachel Klein, Rebecca Litt, Niven McCall-Maza, Luke Vargas, and Rose Cohn
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