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Fauci says population immunity is "entirely conceivable" once enough people get vaccinated or recovered from COVID

Dr. Fauci on Omicron, breakthrough cases
Dr. Fauci on Omicron variant, breakthrough cases and President Biden's message to Americans 08:21

As more Americans get infected with COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the country could reach a level of population immunity in which the virus is no longer "dominating" people's lives.

"That's entirely conceivable, and likely, as a matter of fact," President Biden's chief medical advisor said Tuesday on "CBS Mornings."

His remarks come as the U.S. faces a major spike of infections ahead of the holidays, with nearly 930,000 new cases over the last seven days. The highly transmissible Omicron has now become the dominant variant in the country, accounting for 73% of new cases.

But Fauci said the surge should not stop vaccinated and boosted Americans from celebrating the holidays in small family settings. He also shared an encouraging outlook on the future of the pandemic.

"We are not going to be in a situation of this degree of intensity indefinitely, for sure," he said. "We are hoping when we get through this Omicron wave that we will have enough people vaccinated and/or having been infected and recovered well that there will be a degree of immunity in the community such as that you don't have a situation where it is dominating your life. We hope we get there soon."

To get to that level, Fauci said, "we first have to get to the 50 million or so people who are eligible to be vaccinated who are not vaccinated."

More than 204 million eligible Americans are fully vaccinated, but that's just over 65% of those eligible. And less than a third of eligible people have gotten booster shots.

"If you want to keep the level of spread as low as possible, which will get us back to that level of normality, you have to get those people vaccinated," Fauci said.

Fauci also acknowledged the rise of breakthrough cases, which he attributed to Omicron's "really spectacular capability of spreading from person to person," but he said vaccinated and boosted people are less likely to experience severe illness.

"The likelihood of a vaccinated and boosted person of getting seriously ill from the infection is very, very low," he said. "It's the unvaccinated people who are the most vulnerable not only to getting infected, but to getting a serious outcome."

Fauci said the surge in breakthrough cases should not discourage Americans from getting their first shots or a booster. 

"They shouldn't throw up their hands and say, 'Well, if you can get infected even if you're vaccinated, why get vaccinated?'" he said. "There is a very big difference between a vaccinated and unvaccinated person when they get infected with regard to the consequences of that infection."

Those who do have a breakthrough infection should isolate themselves the same way unvaccinated people do when they are sick, Fauci said. That is because the virus can still spread from person to person even as the transmission level "drops dramatically and quickly when you are vaccinated," he said.

And to prepare for the holidays, Fauci said people looking to confirm they are not infected should get tested one to two days before gathering with their families. 

"If you are vaccinated, you are boosted, and your family is vaccinated and boosted, you can feel comfortable in a home setting of a dinner or a gathering with family and friends who are, in fact, vaccinated and boosted," he said, noting that there is "never a zero risk" when dealing with COVID-19.

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