Transcript: Anthony Fauci on "Face the Nation," February 28, 2021

Fauci warns against complacency as virus cases plateau
Fauci warns against complacency as virus case... 07:21

The following is a transcript of an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, that aired Sunday, February 28, 2021, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to the president's chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Good morning to you, Doctor.

CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT BIDEN DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Good morning, MARGARET.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We had this good news on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine being greenlit overnight. But the COVID response coordinator has said he has been disappointed in the slow pace of manufacturing. How many doses will be available and when will they be available to the public?

DR. FAUCI: Well, as soon as the EUA is essentially formalized, when- when doses can come out, you're going to see a few million doses, I mean, literally a handful. But by the end of March, there'll be 20 million and then there will be a total of 100 million as we get probably to June as we get halfway through the year. So we have contracted with 100 million doses. It's going to start off with just a few, but then 20 million in March and then after that rev up to 100 probably by June, I would say.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is Johnson & Johnson an inferior vaccine, particularly for older Americans?

DR. FAUCI: No. No, you know, it- it's not. You can't say that. We now have, MARGARET, clearly three highly efficacious vaccines. They are highly efficacious in many ways, including, importantly, preventing severe or critical disease. If you look at all three of them, they're really very good. The J&J data that just came out and that was just examined by the FDA, when you have advanced critical disease, there were no hospitalizations and no deaths. That's good news, MARGARET. So I think rather than passing out subgroups here, let's just look at the totality of this. We have a really good vaccine.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Supply is increasing, but Americans are still having a hard time getting access to it. There's still some confusion around communication. Listen to how Saturday Night Live captured that challenge.

(ROLL CLIP)

KATE MCKINNON AS ANTHONY FAUCI: The vaccine rollout is going strong, but it's also very confusing. Who can get it? How? When? Where is it? Do both doses go in the same arm, or different arms or what? I don't know.

(END CLIP)

MARGARET BRENNAN: That was you. Well, what's the biggest hurdle, since I have the real you, what is the biggest hurdle to getting this vaccine out there?

DR. FAUCI: Well, the hurdles that you're talking about, the logistics of getting into people's arms, MARGARET, is really, truly going to get better and better as the days and weeks go by, particularly now where we're putting up over 400 community vaccine centers. It's going to be- get to the pharmacies with many more doses into the pharmacies, mobile units getting it to poorly accessible areas, a lot more vaccinators. That's the thing I think people are not fully appreciative of. You got to have people to get those vaccines into the arms of individuals. And we're employing National Guards and others, retired physicians and nurses, et cetera. That is all going to ramp up because, as you know, in the next few months, we're going to have a lot more vaccines available. And that's the reason why we're getting the capability literally getting better every single day of making this much more smoothly than it's gone in the past. It's going to get better, I assure you.

MARAGARET BRENNAN: The CDC director said this week that there is a very concerning shift in the trajectory of the virus.  It seemed we'd been doing better. Is it because of these California and New York variants that you're now more worried?

DR. FAUCI: You know, not sure. It- it- it certainly could be that because we do have some worrisome variants in California and in New York. If you look at the- the decline of that slope, MARGARET, it was really sharp and very encouraging if you look at the rate as it goes down. But over the last several days, it's kind of stopped at around 70,000 and lingered there for a day or two. That is concerning because the thing we don't want is to have it plateau at 70,000 per day. That's exactly the thing that happened during previous surges. As it peaked and started to come down, people withdrew some of the intensity of the public health measures and it kind of stabilized at a very high level. That's very dangerous, particularly given the fact that we have these variants around, which is the reason why there are two things you can do to essentially counter that. One, continue to implement the public health measures that we talk about all the time, mask, distancing, avoiding congregate settings, but importantly, get as many people vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as you possibly can. That's why adding yet again another really good vaccine into the mix is really very important.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What is your guidance to those Americans who have been lucky enough to get both vaccinations, two doses of the vaccine? Can they still transmit the virus to others?

DR. FAUCI: You know, the answer is theoretically and- and- and- probably in reality, yes. We don't know the exact incidence of that. But let me tell you the reason why we say that. And sometimes it confuses people. The endpoint of efficacy of the vaccine is preventing clinically apparent disease, which means that you could get infected, have nasopharynx virus in your nose and in your mouth. But because you are vaccinated, you could feel perfectly well and the issue is now, can you then transmit it to others? So until we prove that that's not the case, that's the reason why we're recommending that when people are vaccinated and are in the presence of unvaccinated people to put a mask on to prevent them from infecting others. What we're doing now, is studies to see if we can get some good scientific data to show that the level of virus in the nasopharynx of a vaccinated person, if they get infected, is so low, it's not going to transmit. And we're getting more and more data. There was a recent study from Israel to show that the level of virus in the nasopharynx of vaccinated people is extremely low. We, the NIH, the CDC and the U.S. government are doing some studies now to really nail that down--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

DR. FAUCI: --so that we can be able to tell people based on scientific data what the risk of transmitting if you are, in fact, vaccinated.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I- I want to ask you, Dr. Fauci, about something one of our upcoming guests said. Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota delivered a speech to a conservative conference yesterday and she touted her decisions. She got a standing ovation when she said she ignored the medical advice of experts and specifically you.

(ROLL CLIP)

SOUTH DAKOTA GOVERNOR KRISTI NOEM: We never focused on the case numbers. Instead, we kept our eye on hospital capacity. Now, Dr. Fauci, he told me that on my worst day I'd have 10,000 patients in the hospital. On our worst day, we had a little over 600. Now, I don't know if you agree with me, but Dr. Fauci is wrong a lot.

(END CLIP)

MARGARET BRENNAN: How much of an impediment is sentiment like that to the nation's recovery?

DR. FAUCI: You know, it's- it's unfortunate, but it is- it is not really helpful because sometimes you think things are going well and just take a look at the numbers. They don't lie. We see, MARGARET, what happens when you pull back prematurely. Now, you're going to have individual instances of situations where people may not have and didn't see a rebound right away. But you've really got to be careful, particularly now that we have variants in this country that seem to spread more efficiently and maybe even are more dangerous with regard to pathogenicity. So I'm sure that you can get a standing ovation by saying I'm wrong. But the fact- if you look at the scientific facts and follow what we need to do as these cases are coming down, the thing we don't want is for them to do this and start plateauing at a level that'll give us a lot of trouble. Go back and look historically at what happened when we tried to open up the economy and open up the country. And we saw a variable degree of adherence to the public health measures by different governors and different mayors. And what did happen? It went like this and then went right back up when we had yet again another surge. We just don't want to see that. We don't want to continue to prevent people from doing what they want to do. But let's get down to a good level. Let's get many, many more people vaccinated. And then you could pull back on those types of public health measures. But right now, as we're going down and plateauing is not the time to declare victory because we're not victorious yet. We will be, MARGARET, I can assure you, but we're not there yet, particularly with the variants that are circulating in various parts of the country, such as in California and in New York.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Dr. Fauci, thank you for your time this morning. We'll be right back.