Amid growing fears over a new super-mutated COVID-19 variant that looks to be quickly spreading across the world, Dr. Anthony Fauci said over the weekend that Americans are “going to have to start living” with the virus as “we’re not going to eradicate” it.
Nearly two years into an ongoing pandemic that’s killed millions worldwide and over 750,000 in the U.S., global markets were spooked last week after coronavirus cases dramatically surged in South Africa. The spike has been blamed on the Omicron variant and has prompted the United States to place travel restrictions on eight African countries.
At the same time, however, the new virus strain has already been detected in several European countries and Hong Kong, sparking concern among health officials that Omicron is not only highly transmissible but could evade current COVID-19 vaccines. Making the Sunday show rounds, Fauci warned that “we really need to be prepared” for increased Omicron transmission.
Explaining on NBC’s Meet the Press that Omicron has “32 or more variants in that very important spike protein of the virus,” the nation’s top infectious disease expert said the mutations “strongly suggest that it's going to have an advantage in transmissibility and that it might evade immune protection” from monoclonal antibody treatment or even vaccines.
“So it’s not necessarily that that’s going to happen, but it’s a strong indication that we really need to be prepared for that,” the chief White House medical adviser added.
Yet, while raising the possibility that this latest variant may be resistant to current COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, Fauci said the emergence of “troublesome” Omicron should sound the alarm for unvaccinated people to finally get their shots.
“It may not be as good in protecting against initial infection, but it has a very important impact on diminishing the likelihood that you’re going to get a severe outcome from it,” he stated on Meet the Press. “So this is a clarion call as far as I’m concerned of saying let’s put aside all of these differences that we have and say, ‘If you're not vaccinated, get vaccinated. If you’re fully vaccinated, get boosted, and get the children vaccinated also.’ We now have time.”
The underlying message throughout these most recent appearances by Fauci, however, is that the nation is going to have to eventually come to terms with the fact that COVID-19 is now endemic and will never truly go away.
“We certainly are not going to eradicate it. We’ve only eradicated one virus, and that’s smallpox. Elimination means there’s none of it in the country, like we have now with polio and with measles,” Fauci told NBC News anchor Chuck Todd. “I don’t think we’re going to be there with this. But what I do think we will be able to do is get a level of control that’s low enough that it doesn’t interfere with our function, it doesn’t have a major impact on society and what we do. It’s not going to go away.”
He added: “The lower we get it, the better off we’ll be. And you get it that low when you get the overwhelming majority of the population vaccinated and boosted. So, like I’ve said multiple times, Chuck, it’s in with our own grasp of how we’re going to be able to live with the virus. The lower we get it, the lower the dynamics of virus in the community, the lower the risk to everyone, including vaccinated people.”
He delivered a similar message during a lengthy sit-down interview on CBS News’ Face the Nation, telling anchor Margaret Brennan that the goal is to get new cases down to an acceptable level so that the U.S. would be able to “live with COVID.”
Acknowledging that he’s said in the past that he’d like to see America get to under 10,000 daily infections, Fauci declared that the current national level of 80,000 new daily cases is “unacceptable” before asserting that the virus is here to stay.
“I mean, we’ve heard people say, understandably, they’re trying to look for a metric to give to the public that we’re going to have to start living with COVID,” he proclaimed. “I believe that’s the case because I don’t think we’re going to eradicate it. We’ve only eradicated one infection of mankind, and that’s smallpox.”
Fauci concluded: “I don’t think we’re even going to eliminate it. The way you’ve eliminated polio from the United States, you’ve eliminated malaria, which was, you know, decades and decades ago. We had malaria right here in Washington, D.C. We’ve eliminated measles because we have a very, very, very intensive vaccine campaign that did that. So we’re looking at control.”