Coming near to the end of what has been a long and storied career, Chief Medial Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci got behind the White House podium one last time, doing what he’s always done best, alerting Americans how to best take care of their health, particularly in response to the threats posed by infectious diseases.
After receiving a warm introduction by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Dr. Fauci went right into ‘classic Fauci’ mode, telling the American public how to best protect themselves by seeking their most up to-date COVID-19 vaccinations, as well as providing a wide range of supporting evidence on the safety and efficacy of those vaccinations.
His remarks were as follows:
“Thank you very much, Karine, for that really very — very kind introduction. It’s really a great pleasure to be back here with you again, albeit, I believe, for the last time.
But as Karine said, I’m going to spend the next just couple of minutes talking to you about the importance of getting an updated booster vaccine as we enter into the holiday season and the colder weeks and months of the late fall and early winter.
So let’s just talk very briefly about what we know about the vaccines, because we want to make our decisions really based on facts, evidence, and data.
Are the vaccines safe? That keeps coming up. The answer is now: Overwhelmingly, it should be off the table. There have been 13 billion doses of a COVID-19 vaccine that have been distributed worldwide, hundreds of millions in the United States. And there’s robust safety monitoring systems that are in place. And clearly, an extensive body of information clearly indicates that they’re safe.
Next: Are they effective? And I believe you are all aware of this. If you look at the striking data, overwhelmingly show the effectiveness of vaccines, particularly in preventing severe illness and deaths.
And recent data that has come out indicate that if, in fact, you are vaccinated and boosted, compared to an unvaccinated person, there’s a 14 times lower risk of dying in the most recent BA.4/5 era compared to unvaccinated and at least a 3 times lower risk of testing positive compared to the unvaccinated individuals.
But then there’s some issues that we have to deal with that are sometimes confusing to the American public. “If that’s such great data, why do you tell us that we should be, for our own safety and that of our families and the community, get a booster shot?”
There are two issues that in some respects are unprecedented when it comes to infectious diseases. And that is: As good as the vaccine is and as good as post-infection protection is, the immunity and protection wanes over time.
Let me put it into some perspective for you. If you get vaccinated with measles or infected with measles, the duration of protection is measured at a minimum in decades and likely for a lifetime. That just happens to, unfortunately, not be the case when you’re dealing with coronavirus and particularly SARS-CoV-2. So you need to update the protection that we know is good protection.
Next, we have the complicating issue that we can’t do anything about, is that you have the emergence every several months now, historically, of variants. Remember Delta, Omicron, BA.4/5, BQ.1.1 — the things that we’re all hearing about and reading about and seeing?
You don’t have that with — another example, just getting back to measles, which we’re all familiar with. There are no variants of measles. I was — got infected with measles when I was a youngster because I’m old enough to not be getting the vaccine. And that measles is the same measles that’s circulating now in the developing world. It doesn’t change. And that’s the two major reasons for getting a booster.
The booster is bivalent. People get confused with that word. “What does ‘bivalent’ mean?” There’s two components. One is the ancestral, the original vaccine that we all got. And the other is the updated BA.4/5.
So then people ask appropriate questions. “Do they really work? What are the parameters to see if they work?”
There are two parameters. One is what the virus — what the vaccine does in boosting an immune response. We refer to that in the medical circles as immune correlates. And then there’s the real-world vaccine efficacy.
If you look at the recent data that has now been coming out from the companies as well as academic investigators, it is clear now, despite an initial bit of confusion, that the BA.4/5 bivalent booster — what we refer to as the “updated vaccine” — clearly induces a better response against BA.4/5 and the sublineages of BA.4/5 than does the ancestral strain.
So from a purely immunological standpoint, it looks quite good.
Clinical efficacy data from the CDC will be released — in fact, it already has been released; it was supposed to be released at 11:30 — which is clinical efficacy data, looking at real-world data of hundreds of thousands of people, looking at the capability of the virus to protect against the real-world BA.4/5 that has been circulating. And we know that that is really quite good.
So, we have immunological data and you have now clinical efficacy data. Everybody was asking the question: Where’s the clinical efficacy data? Now it has come out with the CDC MMWR this morning.
So, we know it’s safe. We know that it is effective. So, my message and my final message — may be the final message I give you from this podium — is that: Please, for your own safety, for that of your family, get your updated COVID-19 shot as soon as you’re eligible to protect yourself, your family, and your community.
I urge you to visit Vaccines.gov to find a location where you can easily get an updated vaccine. And please do it as soon as possible.
Dr. Fauci was followed to the podium by COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha, who reiterated Fauci’s primary points on vaccinations prior to a Q&A session moderated by the Press Secretary.