Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens during a Senate hearing on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in the Dirksen Senate office building in Washington, DC, the United States, on July 20, 2021.
Stefani Reynolds | Reuters
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Senior Medical Advisor to the White House, warned that a more severe variant of Covid could emerge as the U.S. average of daily new cases is now nearing 100,000 per day, exceeding the transmission rate last summer, before vaccines were available.
Fauci said in an interview with McClatchy published on Wednesday evening that the US could be “in trouble” if a new variant overtakes Delta, which already has a viral load 1000 times higher than the original Covid strain.
Delta has turned the U.S. response to the pandemic on its head as it has been shown to be capable of infecting even people who are vaccinated. Moderna warned Thursday that breakthrough infections are becoming more common as the Delta variant continues to spread.
However, vaccines still offer strong protection against serious illness and death, and the overwhelming majority of new infections occur in unvaccinated people. Moderna, for example, said Thursday that the booster shot it is developing creates a robust immune response against Delta.
Fauci warned in the interview that the US is “very happy” to have vaccines that have been proven against the variants, suggesting that if even heavier strains emerge, this may not be the case.
“If another shows up who has just as much transferability but is also much more severe, we could really get into trouble,” Fauci told McClatchy. “People who don’t get vaccinated mistakenly think it’s all about them. But it’s not. It’s about everyone else too.”
The U.S. reports a seven-day average of nearly 94,000 new cases as of Aug. 4, up 48% from a week, according to Johns Hopkins University. Deviating from the average, the US actually exceeded 100,000 new cases per day on Monday and Tuesday.
Fauci predicted that the total number of new cases could eventually reach between 100,000 and 200,000 cases per day as the Delta variant spreads.
The recent surge in Covid has hit unvaccinated people the hardest, and Fauci said there are about 93 million eligible, unvaccinated people nationwide.
“You protect the vulnerable targets, who are unvaccinated people, by vaccinating them,” Fauci said at a briefing at the White House Thursday morning. “And when you do that, you are very, very severely blocking the development of variants that could be problematic.”
“If we do this in the immediate, medium, and long-term, and do the mitigation now, we will reverse the delta rise,” added Fauci.
When asked if the vaccines still prevent 99% of Covid deaths and 95% of hospital admissions, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky suggests that this conclusion is based on data from January to June. The CDC is working to update these [figures] in the context of the delta variant, “she said.
In a series of interviews conducted by CNBC in July, several health officials reiterated Fauci’s concern about the emergence of a new variant. Dr. Stephen Morse, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, said in an email that “the cycle of new variants repeats itself as long as the virus infects people and circulates in the population, opening up opportunities for the virus to develop.” “. . “
“I would be very surprised if Delta were the last,” said Morse.
And Dr. Barbara Taylor, dean and professor of infectious diseases at UT Health San Antonio added that future variants “that increase transmission will have the advantage” as things move forward.
“As long as we have an active spread of diseases around the world, we will continue to see new variants because we give the virus the opportunity to evolve,” Taylor said in an email.
Although vaccinations are well below pandemic highs, the U.S. reports an average of about 677,000 daily vaccinations for the past week through Wednesday, up 11% from the previous week, according to CDC data. The country peaked in mid-April with a reported average of 3 million vaccinations per day, but the rate of first doses being given has increased in recent weeks, driven by states with severe outbreaks and low vaccination rates.
President Joe Biden said in May that he wanted 70% of the eligible population to receive at least one dose of vaccine by July 4th. The US hit its target on Monday, CDC data shows about a month late.
– CNBC’s Nate Rattner contributed to this report.