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Fauci says CDC's updated mask guidance is "based on the evolution of the science"

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president's chief medical adviser, says "the accumulation of all of those scientific facts, information and evidence brought the CDC to make that decision, to say, now when you're vaccinated, you don't need to wear a mask, not only outdoors, but you don't need to wear it indoors."

Video Transcript

- Now we turn to the coronavirus pandemic and President Biden's chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Good morning, Dr. Fauci.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Good morning, John. Good to be with you.

- It's good to be with you. The new guidance on masks is confusing people a little because two weeks ago, the CDC said that people who hadn't been vaccinated were safer while wearing masks. Now there's new guidance. What changed in that period?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, what's happened-- there's been an accumulation of data, John, showing in the real-world effectiveness of the vaccines. It is even better than in the clinical trials, well over 90% protecting you against disease, number one.

Number two, a number of papers have come out in the past couple of weeks showing that the vaccine protects even against the variants that are circulating. And thirdly, we're seeing that it is very unlikely that a vaccinated person, even if there's a breakthrough infection, would transmit it to someone else.

So the accumulation of all of those scientific facts, information, and evidence brought the CDC to make that decision to say, now, when you're vaccinated, you don't need to wear masks not only outdoors, but you don't need to wear it indoors.

- So on that third point, let me ask you this. If I have no symptoms and I have been vaccinated, but I am infected, what's the difference between that and if I have no symptoms and I'm infected, but have not been vaccinated?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Good question, John. And what the issue is is that the level of virus in your nasopharynx, which is correlated with whether or not you are going to transmit it to someone else, is considerably lower. So even though there are breakthrough infections with vaccinated people, almost always, the people are asymptomatic. And the level of virus is so low it makes it extremely unlikely-- not impossible, but very, very low likelihood-- that they're going to transmit it, whereas when people who are getting infected who are without symptoms who are not vaccinated-- generally, the titer or the level of virus, relatively speaking, is higher than in the vaccinated individuals.

- A lot of people have heard about the Yankees. Eight members of the club have tested positive. But it seems to bear out what you're saying, which is most of them have no symptoms. And you're-- what you seem to be saying is they have no symptoms and we don't need to worry about them spreading because they've all been vaccinated.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, yeah. I mean, it's not going to be absolute zero. But the likelihood, John, of their spreading is really very, very low. And that's one of the reasons why they're even talking about if you are vaccinated that you're going to cut down on the testing of individuals because even if they test positive, the likelihood of their transmitting to someone else is really very, very low.

- So if a person is deciding whether or not to get vaccinated, they have to keep in mind whether it's going to keep them healthy. But based on these new findings, it would suggest they also have an opportunity, if vaccinated, to knock off or block their ability to transmit it to other people. So does it increase the public health good of getting the vaccination or make that clearer based on these new findings?

ANTHONY FAUCI: You know, John, you said it very well. I couldn't have said it better. It's absolutely the case. And that's the reason why we say when you get vaccinated, you not only protect your own health, that of the family, but also, you contribute to the community health by preventing the spread of the virus throughout the community. In other words, you become a dead end to the virus.

And when there are a lot of dead ends around, the virus is not going to go anywhere. And that's when you get a point that you have a markedly diminished rate of infection in the community. And that's exactly the reason, and you said it very well, of why we encourage people and want people to get vaccinated. The more people you get vaccinated, the safer the entire community is.

- Do you think, now that this guidance has come out on relaxing the mask mandates if you've been vaccinated, that people who might have been hesitant before will start to get vaccinated in greater numbers?

ANTHONY FAUCI: You know, I hope so, John. The underlying reason for the CDC doing this was just based on the evolution of the science that I mentioned a moment ago. But if, in fact, this serves as an incentive for people to get vaccinated, all the better. I hope it does, actually.

- On the public health messaging of this, one of the-- this kind of caught some people by surprise. And because people have been so confused over the course of the last 14 months, would it have been better to prepare the way a little bit more for this? Good news, of course, for everyone-- but because there has been so much confusion over time, would it have been better to kind of walk people up to this very kind of head-snapping new news?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, you know, John, people will say that. There may be some merit to that. But as a matter of fact, the CDC did this and took this action based on the data. What they'll do now, and I know we've discussed that with the CDC director-- what they'll be doing now is coming out very quickly with individual types of guidances. So people will say, well, what about the workplace? What about this? What about that?

And I think that's going to be clarified, John, pretty quickly. I would imagine within a period of just a couple of weeks, you're going to start to see significant clarification of some of the, actually, understandable and reasonable questions that people are asking.

- You have, throughout your career, talked a lot about vaccinating other parts of the world. There's a moral case for doing it, and also because pandemics don't know anything about borders. The more that it's raging elsewhere, the greater chance a variant comes here.

So how do you feel, given that vaccines are being made available now to teenagers, where there's very low risk, and also people are turning away the vaccine? How does that make you feel given the way you've talked throughout your career about the necessity of vaccinating the world, which the United States could do more to help with?

ANTHONY FAUCI: You know, John, that's a frequently asked question. And it's not an unreasonable question. But I believe strongly we can do both. You're absolutely right. I mean, I will reconfirm what I've said over many, many years, dating back to the HIV/AIDS issues, that I feel we do have a moral responsibility as a rich nation to make sure that others in poorer nations are not deprived of interventions that would be lifesaving.

But I think we can do both, John. I think we can vaccinate younger people, adolescents, and children at the same time that we put a major effort in getting doses of vaccines to those in the lower and middle-income countries.

- All right. Dr. Anthony Fauci, we really appreciate you being with us. Thanks so much.