There’s a clear way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s really “up to us” to get ourselves there, says Anthony Fauci, M.D.
Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, laid out a roadmap for the country to achieve considerable normalcy by the spring of 2022 in a new interview with CNN this week. And the key is widespread COVID-19 vaccination.
“If we can get through this winter and [vaccinate] the majority, overwhelming majority of the 90 million people who have not been vaccinated, I hope we could start to get some good control in the spring of 2022,” Dr. Fauci told Anderson Cooper. Getting the vast majority of Americans vaccinated could create “a degree of overall blanket protection of the community” that would allow us to “start getting back to a degree of normality” in early 2022, Dr. Fauci explained.
It’s the kind of prediction we’ve heard from public health officials before. Dr. Fauci was careful to include a “big caveat” about this spring 2022 timeline, allowing for the possibility of another wildcard (like the delta variant) if we don’t act quickly enough. “This is a very wily virus. We thought we were going to have that degree of freedom as we got into the Fourth of July and the summer,” Dr. Fauci acknowledged. “Then along comes the sucker punch with the delta variant, which is extraordinary in its capability of spreading from person to person.”
If we continue to allow the virus to spread throughout the country’s large unvaccinated population (and, in turn, among vaccinated people experiencing breakthrough cases), we may see the emergence of another variant that would alter this potential trajectory. “If we keep lingering without getting those people vaccinated that should be vaccinated, this thing could linger on, leading to the development of another variant, which could complicate things,” Dr. Fauci said. So while a safe and healthy 2022 could certainly be in store for the country, “there’s no guarantee because it’s up to us,” Dr. Fauci said.
There are reasons to be hopeful we’ll get there. Dr. Fauci said we will likely see many more people get vaccinated soon after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine this week. Dr. Fauci and others predict a wave of vaccine mandates from companies, universities, and others. That trend has already begun, with corporations like CVS and institutions like the Pentagon and the State University of New York system announcing mandates, as The New York Times reports.
Dr. Fauci also said that some research shows about 30% of people who are not yet vaccinated may be swayed by the FDA’s full green light. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey of 1,888 adults from June found that 31% of unvaccinated adults said they would be more likely to get one of the vaccines if it received full FDA approval. We may also see COVID-19 vaccines become available to younger kids in the near future. (In July, an FDA official told NBC News that vaccines could be granted emergency use authorization in children younger than 12 by early to mid-winter.) And the White House’s plan to offer booster shots to almost everyone who got a two-dose vaccine starting in late September (pending approval from the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) could offer already vaccinated people even more protection.
So although there are no guarantees when it comes to the ever-changing dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Dr. Fauci said, “It’s within our power to get this under control.”