In an interview with theGrio, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, said “unfortunately” Black Americans continue to be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and warned that the virus likely won’t be eradicated.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, is encouraging Black Americans to get the updated booster when it becomes available as the country endures a summer surge and as COVID-19 racial disparities persist two and half years into the pandemic.
In a sit-down interview with theGrio, Dr. Fauci, who is also the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said “unfortunately” Black Americans continue to experience disproportionate shares of COVID-19 infection rates, severe health outcomes and deaths compared with white Americans.
Two factors that contribute to this disparity, Fauci pointed out, are exposure because of the type of jobs generally occupied by Black Americans and underlying health conditions that become more severe when exposed to COVID-19.
“African Americans — as a group — generally are employed in jobs that put them out into society, in contact with individuals where the risk of getting infected is greater than someone who can actually do their job behind a computer screen or in front of a zoom,” Fauci told theGrio.
Once exposed, many Black Americans who have underlying health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, chronic lung disease and kidney disease, among others, are at risk of severe outcomes. “When you look at the relative risk of having a severe outcome — if in fact, you get infected — it disproportionately is against the brown and Black populations,” said Fauci.
Black people should be especially concerned now, as Dr. Fauci notes that the United States is experiencing a “summer surge.”
“If you look at the infection rate now as late into the summer as mid-August, we’re still seeing well over 100,000 documented cases every day,” Fauci said. “And since so many people get infected and get the home test and never report that they’re infected, the actual number of infections is probably multifold, more than just 100,000 a day.”
What’s more, he said, is that COVID-19 deaths have remained around 400 per day for months — an occurrence he described as “very disturbing.”
“We would have hoped that as we got into the summer, the number of hospitalizations, deaths and overall infections were dramatically diminished, and they haven’t,” he explained.
As the nation enters the fall season with the expectation of an even riskier fall surge, Fauci said there is hope for those who wish to remain protected from the virus as the Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize an updated booster shot, known as the bivalent BA.5 vaccine. It will more closely match the circulating Omicron variants of COVID-19. The chief medical officer said the new booster could be made available as soon as mid-September.
“If the African-American population or anybody … want to diminish their risk of infection and severe disease, stay heads up for the availability of this updated bivalent BA.5 vaccine,” said Fauci.
For those who may wonder, “when will the pandemic be over?” Alas, Fauci said COVID-19 is a virus that will never be eradicated because of its ability to change “very rapidly.” To date, he said there has only been one virus to be eliminated in the history of public health: smallpox. “It’s pretty stable when you get infected or vaccinated. The protection is measured in decades and perhaps even for a lifetime.”
Other viruses that have been essentially eradicated, at least in the United States, are measles and polio — both of which Fauci noted, like smallpox, don’t change very much. “You don’t get a lot of different variants. And when you get infected and/or vaccinated, protection lasts — again — decades and perhaps a lifetime.” But Fauci stressed, “that’s diametrically opposite from what you see with COVID.”
Though Fauci believes that public health officials will likely never be able to eliminate COVID-19 and all its variants, he said there is hope to decrease infections to such a low level in society that we reach a population immunity and the virus “doesn’t have a significant impact on our lifestyle the way COVID has over the last two and a half years.” The goal is also to reach a point where those who are infected with COVID-19 only experience mild illness.
Combined with that goal, Fauci said, is to see COVID-related death rates reach a “very, very low” level and to see an uptick in vaccination rates. “If we get to that point, it will be at such a low level [that] it would not dominate us the way it is right now,” he said.
Gerren Keith Gaynor is the Managing Editor of Politics and Washington Correspondent at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.
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