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Dr. Fauci Gives Update On The U.S. Vaccine Rollout Efforts

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We have hit another milestone in the race to vaccinate the U.S. against COVID-19 half of American adults have now received at least one shot. And as of today, all Americans age 16 and up are eligible to sign up for their dose. How many will actually do it? We're going to turn now to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration's chief medical adviser. Dr. Fauci, thanks for joining us again.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Good to be with you.

MARTIN: So, as noted, at least 50% of American adults have gotten at least one dose, which is great. Now that every adult is eligible, what is the best-case timeline for everyone to be vaccinated?

FAUCI: Well, we are hoping that we get there by - excuse me - by July. By the end of May, there will be enough vaccines to vaccinate anyone who would want to be vaccinated. And from a logistics standpoint, getting it into people's arms, we hope we do it sooner but no later than July.

MARTIN: OK. So you say by the end of May, there should be enough vaccine to put into everyone. Does that take into consideration the pause in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine? We should just remind people it was put on pause because of blood clots in a few women.

FAUCI: Right. I mean, right now, if you look at the Moderna and the Pfizer commitment, this interval now where we're not having J&J, Pfizer itself has said that they are going to increase the availability of their doses by 10%. So already, it's making up for that. We don't know what's going to happen with J&J. By Friday, we should have an answer, and then we should just get back on track. So we have no doubt that we'll be able to vaccinate anyone who wants to be vaccinated by that time.

MARTIN: You have said that the J&J vaccine pause could be lifted by Friday. Do you expect that there's going to be some kind of restrictions placed on it, an age limit or something?

FAUCI: You know, Rachel, I don't want to get ahead of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices in the CDC, but I would be surprised if they did not have a decision by Friday. The options are several. I doubt very much whether they would just cancel it. You never know, but I really doubt that. So you have either come back with no inhibitions, or you come back with some sort of restrictions, whatever they may be. And that's what they're doing now. They're examining the data, all the data that's available. And they'll be making that determination. And, hopefully, we'll move on on Friday.

MARTIN: Are you worried that the blood clot issue with that vaccine is going to exacerbate vaccine skepticism?

FAUCI: You know, Rachel, there's always that concern. But the way I like to frame it is that this is a very, very rare adverse event. I mean, the one that triggered the pause was 6 out of about 7 million, which means it's very, very rare. So what that tells me - and I try to communicate to people - is that that means the system is working. And if you're hesitant about vaccine because you're concerned about safety, this tells you that safety is taken very seriously. And also, the same surveillance system that picked up those six young women who wound up with those complications is the same surveillance system that's used for the tens and tens and tens of millions of doses of Moderna and Pfizer. So when the FDA and the CDC say something is safe, you can be sure it's safe.

MARTIN: I want to play a clip for you from a conversation we had with Dr. Scott Gottlieb last week, who's a former administrator of the FDA. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: I think we get to 150 million vaccines. I think we struggle to get to 160 million. Beyond that, I think it's going to be difficult. I'm not sure that you have the demand there.

MARTIN: He's talking about whether or not people just show up and get the shots. Do you agree with his estimation?

FAUCI: Well, you know, I mean, obviously, there are different opinions. What we're trying to do is that we have a really firm outreach type of a situation going, a community core that's getting trusted messengers in the community, be they sports figures, celebrities, people in the community, clergy and others to go out and get people to understand why it's so important for themselves, for their family and for the community to get vaccinated. So although...

MARTIN: I want to...

FAUCI: I'm sorry. Go ahead. Go ahead.

MARTIN: Well, the big question here is if Scott Gottlieb is right - and he goes on to say that he doesn't believe the U.S. will get herd immunity if we if we stick with those numbers, his estimation - if that's correct, what are the implications if we don't ever get to that magical herd immunity?

FAUCI: Well, you know, you've got to be careful because that's kind of an elusive terminology, Rachel. You get as many people vaccinated as you possibly can, and you could be - turn around the dynamics of the outbreak. So we don't want to get stuck on this type of a terminology. It's important, but we can go a long way before we get there.

MARTIN: So you think it is - America will be a safer place. We will get back to some semblance of normalcy even if we don't vaccinate 80% of the population.

FAUCI: Yeah, because we don't know what that number really is.

MARTIN: Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the Biden administration, thank you, as always, for your time and perspective.

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