Dr. Anthony Fauci pleaded with the public Tuesday to get vaccinated, saying the Delta coronavirus variant – the B.1.617.2 variant first identified in India – accounts for more than 6% of the sequenced viruses in the United States.
The variant’s spread and dominance in the United Kingdom, which was first hit hard by the Alpha variant – B.1.1.7 – could spell trouble for the United States if people don’t get vaccinated, Fauci said in a White House Covid-19 briefing.
“We cannot let that happen in the United States,” Fauci said, adding it’s “such a powerful argument” to get vaccinated.
The Delta variant “may be associated with an increased disease severity, such as hospitalization risk, compared to (the Alpha variant, B.1.1.7),” Fauci said. The variant is susceptible to available two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca, he said, but protection from these vaccines requires following a two-dose schedule.
“There is reduced vaccine effectiveness in the one dose,” said Fauci, who is the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director. “Three weeks after one dose, both vaccines, the (AstraZeneca) and the Pfizer/BioNTech, were only 33% effective against symptomatic disease from Delta.”
There is not yet a booster vaccine trial underway specific to the Delta variant, but variant-specific boosters may be on the horizon, Fauci said.
A booster may focus on a specific variant, or the type a person was originally vaccinated against, he said.
“We are approaching both of those, but the one thing that we are noticing that’s important is that the higher your degree of immune response against the wild type, the greater the secondary coverage you have against a wide array of variants,” he said. “You can boost against the wild type, and still cover variants, including 617.”
Vaccination numbers have plummeted since April
Fauci’s plea for Americans to get vaccinated against Covid-19 comes as vaccinations across the country have slowed, leaving unvaccinated Americans vulnerable to new variants and threatening the chances of reaching herd immunity.
Over the last week, the US averaged more than 1.07 million Covid-19 vaccine shots administered per day – well below the peak seven-day average of 3.38 million shots per day reached on April 13, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mississippi is the state with the lowest percentage of its population fully vaccinated – 27.5% as of Monday, according to the CDC.
The state fell from 128,841 doses administered during the week ending March 27 down to 24,374 doses in the week ending June 5.
Alabama has the second-lowest percentage of fully vaccinated residents among all states – 29.4% as of Monday, according to CDC data.
The state fell from 44,397 doses administered April 8 down to 1,465 doses on Saturday, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s Covid-19 dashboard.
Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee and Wyoming also had less than 33% of their populations fully vaccinated as of Monday.
“I understand that in the short run we may get away with it, having slow vaccination rates,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
“But those people really are vulnerable – once we have more variants circulating in the United States – to get reinfected and potentially get very sick.”
Even those who’ve already had coronavirus should get vaccinated because research shows immunity achieved through vaccination is better than immunity through previous infection, Fauci said.
“We need to get vaccinated because vaccines are highly efficacious. They are better than the traditional response you get from natural infection,” Fauci said last month.
Lab research shows those who previously had Covid-19 and received two doses of an mRNA vaccine “had interesting, increased protection against the variants of concern,” he said.
And those relying on their immunity from previous infection need to understand the danger of new variants, Jha said.