WASHINGTON — Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease doctor, said he’s “strongly in favor” of speeding booster shots to people with weakened immune systems, as the delta variant continues to shift the strategies for curbing the pandemic.
“We need to look at them in a different light,” Fauci said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on Sunday. “We will almost certainly be boosting those people before we boost the general population that’s been vaccinated, and we should be doing that reasonably soon.”
Fauci spoke as debate grows over “breakthrough” infections among fully vaccinated people and whether approval should be given for booster shots. Israel, the first nation to roll out boosters widely, said it expects more than half a million people aged 60 and over will get a third injection by the end of Sunday.
Fauci said most people who have compromised immune systems, including those with organ transplants or who are on chemotherapy, “never did get an adequate response” from their COVID-19 vaccination.
When asked if other groups should get booster shots, Fauci said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is ready to give a recommendation as soon as they see clear evidence to do so from the data.
The CDC has been tracking various groups including the elderly, those in nursing homes and young people month by month, he said. “As soon as they see that level of durability of protection goes down, then you will see the recommendation to vaccinate those individuals.”
But, he stressed: “The vaccines are still doing what you originally want them to do — to keep you out of the hospital to prevent you from getting seriously ill.”
Fauci said he also supports vaccine mandates at local levels, such as schools and universities, after a full approval from the Food and Drug Administration on the COVID-19 vaccines.
“You’re going to see the empowerment of local enterprises giving mandates,” Fauci said on NBC. “That could be colleges, universities, places of business, awhole variety, and I strongly support that.”
A full approval could arrive “within the next few weeks,” Fauci added. “I hope it’s within the month of August.”
Vaccines in the U.S. have so far been given under emergency-use approval — a reason some people give for refusing to be vaccinated.
Health officials don’t take breakthrough infections “lightly,” Fauci said. The delta variant, which is more contagious and is fueling the surge of U.S. cases to more than 100,000 a day, will produce “more” breakthrough cases.
He said the variant presents the additional problem that vaccinated people can also transmit the virus to someone else. That has led to the CDC revising its mask guidelines recently.