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"A Shot of Hope": Dr. Fauci answers your questions

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CBSN's Tanya Rivero gets answers to more of your questions regarding the COVID-19 vaccines from Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Video Transcript

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Welcome back to CBSN's "A Shot of Hope: Vaccine Questions Answered." we've still got a good amount to get to. Let's bring back Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Biden as well as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Fauci, thank you so much for staying with us. Doctor, I want to ask you about something you originally said about vaccines, that it would be, quote, "open season by April."

But you pushed that estimate back by about a month or two. What does open season actually mean? And do you worry it could create a situation where people flood vaccination sites and millions of disadvantaged people would still find themselves struggling to get a shot?

ANTHONY FAUCI: OK, let me explain what I meant first by what I said when I said open season. So when you have a situation where you don't have enough vaccine to give to everybody all at once and you have to prioritize, you know that there are prioritizations that have come out on the basis of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises the CDC, who have the ultimate responsibility for making recommendations of when vaccines should be given to certain groups of people. So that 1A-- so it goes to 1A, 1B, 1C, and then 2. To me, 2 would be open season, namely, you're not among the priority 1's.

So right now, the first groups of vaccines that came out would have gone to health care providers and people in nursing homes and extended care facilities. Then the next group had people beyond a certain age as well as what are considered essential members of society, people who are important to make our society run. Then you go to the next group of people who are like 16 to 64 who have underlying conditions, and then others that are in essential jobs, but not as essential by judgment of some of the others.

Those are the priorities. Once you get beyond them, then there are no people who have priorities. I call that open season, meaning anybody, normal 25, 30-year-old person has no underlying conditions, is not in a high-priority position in society, they can go up to wherever they're being distributed, be they community vaccine-- community vaccine centers, whether they're pharmacies, whether they're mobile units at that point. I originally had said April. But because of the fact that there was more of a gap between the supply and demand than we had anticipated, by the end of April, I had pushed that to maybe May or early June, very likely the end of May, the beginning of June when we will have many, many more doses of vaccines that you can actually give to people.

Addressing the second part of your question, we're very sensitive to the fact that we want equity in the distribution of vaccines, particularly equity to our minority populations. And as I mentioned just a moment ago, that's the reasons why one of the first things that President Biden did was to get the federal government to be putting up-- together and in collaboration with the locals-- doing the community vaccine centers and putting them in locations that are representative of minority groups. Also, the same with pharmacies. Importantly, mobile units.

And then finally, something that is really critical. He's established a equities task force that is chaired by an African-American physician, Dr. Marcella Nunez Smith, whose job, whose complete job is to address the issue that you're alluding to, to make sure that there is equity in the distribution, particularly among underserved people, generally in the minority groups.

TANYA RIVERO: Right, all right, so we want to get to more questions from our viewers, Dr. Fauci. This next one comes from Michelle O. And she asks, "With the mRNA vaccines, how long will the genetic coding be active in the body and does it stay as a genetic marker? Can that genetic coding be passed on in utero?"

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, first of all, that's an excellent question. People ask it all the time. It really decays. The RNA will code for the protein. But after a period of a day or two, likely, it will just decay and be gone. The issue of going-- it should not, in essence, go into-- in utero we had many, many pregnant women now who were not in the clinical trials, but who actually have received the vaccine while they were pregnant because they elected to.

Many of them were health care providers who felt that the risk of COVID-19 disease on their fetus, their unborn fetus, is much, much greater than any hypothetical risk from the vaccine. And thus far, with thousands of people who-- women who were pregnant having gotten the vaccine following the EUA, there have been no red flags of anything that anyone would be worried about. But, obviously, what we're going to be doing anyway-- and we've already started that-- is doing actual studies, clinical trials in pregnant women to determine the answer to just the questions that this caller had asked. A, is it safe for the mother? And B, is there any issue with the baby? Thus far, we haven't seen it in the observational studies. But you want to do a specific study to answer that question.

TANYA RIVERO: And there is a good follow-up question to that question, Dr. Fauci, that this particular one is from Rema P., but we've heard it from several women. "Does the vaccine affect fertility in women and teenage girls?"

ANTHONY FAUCI: There is no biological reason at all, any mechanistic reason that you could imagine that it would affect fertility in women and teenage girls. Remember right now, we are in a situation, this vaccine has only been out literally for a year, or less than a year. But when you ask a question like that, you have to ask yourself, what would be the biological reason why that would occur? And there really is no biological reason? There will obviously be long-term follow-ups and studies. But this is not at all something that you would anticipate.

TANYA RIVERO: So it's not something you have a concern about?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Not at all.

TANYA RIVERO: Because it's interesting, we did hear that question from multiple women.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, you know, I think when you get a question that is asked by many women, that's not necessarily proportionate to what the actual risk is. They are reasonable questions that women will ask. And they should be asking those questions. So there's nothing wrong with asking that question. But you don't want to interpret that when many, many people ask the question that that is evidence that it actually happens.

TANYA RIVERO: Right, so, Dr. Fauci, our next question is from Janette K. And she asks, "When will a vaccine be available for children under 16 and what's being done to help children who have disabilities that make contracting the virus potentially deadly?"

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, first of all, the vaccine will be available for children under 16 by a couple of the studies that are ongoing now of looking at between 12 and 16. So let's talk about the high school group, which is 12, 13 through 16 to 18, and then people who are in elementary school, namely 12 down to 8, 9 to 6, 6 to 2 years, 2 years to 6 months.

A couple of the companies-- Pfizer, Moderna, and others-- already are doing studies or observations that will make it likely that high school children will be able to get vaccinated some time in the fall of this year, 2021. That is a situation that may not be the first day of the fall term. But it almost certainly will be available in the fall term. Because of the concern about safety of new vaccines for children, particularly the vulnerable, children are vulnerable, that there will be what's called age deescalation studies that have either started or will start very soon.

By age deescalation you mean, you start off with a certain age and you say, let's look at kids from 12 to 9. We're OK, let's go then from 9 to 6. We're OK. Let's go from 6 to 2. Let's go from 2 months-- 6 months to 2 years. Those studies almost certainly will not be completed until the first quarter of 2022. So bottom line, big picture is that high school kids will likely have availability by the fall of this year. But it is anticipated that you won't have the younger elementary school and below children getting vaccine until at least the first quarter of 2022. And I'm sorry, but the second part of the question you were saying?

TANYA RIVERO: Just, I'm curious whether we can achieve herd immunity before the vaccination of children?

ANTHONY FAUCI: You know, the answer is, we've got to make sure that we separate the classic definition of herd immunity, which when you have enough people in the population that are vaccinated that you have kind of an umbrella of protection over the whole society because the level of virus gets so low that it makes it difficult for the virus to find a vulnerable group of individuals. We don't know right now what the precise percentage of herd immunity is.

And herd immunity would really be a combination of vaccine-induced protection and those who have been infected and are very likely protected against the same strain of virus that infected them to begin with. We can make an estimate that this is, let's say, I have made an estimate. And I have to be modest and humble about it. It is an estimate that I think is a reasonable estimate. And that is between 70% and 85% of the population. We don't know that or what the exact number is until you've reached it, you have herd immunity, and then when you drop below it, you start to see cases cropping up.

However, what we want to make sure people don't get into the mindset that, say, it's either herd immunity or nothing. Because if you get 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%, 60% of the population vaccinated, you're going to see a very profound effect on a diminution of cases, diminution of hospitalizations, and diminutions in deaths. That's exactly what's going on right now in Israel, which because of the nature of the country, the small size, the population, they've reached a certain percentage of the population that is vaccinated. They may not have yet reached the classic definition of herd immunity. But the number of cases that have gone down, the hospitalizations are very extreme in the sense of in the good sense.

So although we want to establish herd immunity, remember, we don't know exactly what that number is. You can get an enormous benefit for every increment of the people that are vaccinated. And that's what we're doing now. And that's the reason why with the increase in vaccines that will be available in the month of March and April and May, the more we can get people vaccinated, the more protection we'll have, and importantly, the more we will avert the evolution of these variants. Because the more you suppress the virus, the less you give it a chance to evolve into a new variant.

TANYA RIVERO: Such good advice and something we can all look forward to. Dr. Fauci, you've been so generous with your time. Thank you so much-- so very much for joining us. I think it goes without saying, you've been a consummate professional during this entire pandemic, providing guidance for so many people. Thank you so much. Stay safe and good luck going forward.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Thank you, Tanya, very good to be with you. Thanks a lot.

TANYA RIVERO: For continued information about the vaccines and the latest on COVID-19, you can log on to our website, cbsnews.com. We hope we've answered many of your questions. I'm Tanya Rivero. This has been a CBS special, "A Shot of Hope: Vaccine Questions Answered." Thank you for joining us.