The U.S. could soon see COVID-19 cases rise again and vulnerable people are likely to need a fourth vaccine dose, one of President Joe Biden’s top health advisers warned as the White House calls for more money to fight the pandemic.
Anthony Fauci, the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a Biden adviser, said U.K. officials are already warning him of an increase there driven by the BA. 2 sub-variant, easing restrictions and waning protection from vaccines, and that the U.S. tends to be a few weeks behind case curves in the U.K.
“We have all three of those factors right now in this country,” Fauci said in an interview Thursday. “I would predict that we are going to see a bit of an increase, or at least a flattening out and plateauing of the diminution of cases. And the question is how do we deal with that.”
U.S. cases have steadily fallen since records set in January, prompting restrictions to be eased and Biden to encourage Americans to resume a more normal life. But the administration is also calling on Congress to approve new funding to head off a fresh crisis, continue certain programs and buy vaccines and treatments.
The funding is also crucial to continue clinical trials of booster shots and work on developing pan-coronavirus vaccines, Fauci said. The White House has sought $22.5 billion in funding, warning that it will soon have to wind down programs and can’t buy more therapeutic treatments.
Without new funding, “a lot of things are going to stop. It really will be a very serious situation,” Fauci said. “It just is almost unconscionable.”
Fauci spoke Thursday to House Democrats during the weekly Democratic Whip meeting, at the invitation of Whip Jim Clyburn, outlining the administration’s needs.
The U.S. has not ordered enough shots to give all Americans a fourth dose if needed, officials said earlier this week. Fauci said that the data aren’t entirely clear, but that protection against hospitalization appears to wane after four or five months after a third shot, and would be expected to fall further.
“I would project that sooner or later, we will need a fourth,” though perhaps only for the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, at least at first, Fauci said.
Both the cash crunch and Fauci’s warnings come as Biden’s White House COVID team prepares for a change in leadership. Response coordinator Jeff Zients and his deputy, Natalie Quillian, will leave their roles next month and be replaced by Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health. Fauci praised all of them, while cautioning the fall in cases is a good sign, but is not sure to last.
“It’s really in a transition stage. We are obviously going in the right direction,” Fauci said. “We have to be really careful and not declare total victory prematurely. I do believe we will be able to settle into a degree of normality.”
Jha, in tweets Thursday, also predicted that cases could rise again and new variants could emerge. “We are very likely to see more surges of infections,” he said.
The U.S. will need to be flexible, including potentially returning to recommending the use of masks in certain settings, Fauci said.
“We’d better be careful, because history has taught us that what’s gone on in the U.K. generally happens to us three or four weeks later,” he said.