New Delhi: US seems to have successfully bend the curve of COVID-19 cases significantly, with a high rate of vaccination, as per US’ top Covid expert, Dr Anthony Stephen Fauci. Dr Fauci spoke to NDTV on the coronavirus situation in India and the United States. Dr Fauci shared his views on the effectiveness of vaccines, the severity of the Delta variant, and the overall Covid situation in general.
NDTV: When you look at the world, and you look at India and US, and the curve of the virus, what are you seeing? What gives you hope and what worries you?
Dr Anthony Fauci: In America, things are going extremely well, after the very difficult time we had last fall and winter. The number of cases are going down considerably, we went from a daily average of 60,000 fresh cases to well below 20,000 a day. The good news is that we are doing very well with the implementation of vaccines. About 52 per cent of our adult population is fully vaccinated and about 64 per cent of our adult population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The rest of the world really depends upon what country we are talking about. Some countries are doing well, the UK is now facing a problem with the 617 Delta variant. The variant that is dominant in India, is now becoming dominant in the UK, so even though they have done very well with their vaccine program, they are concerned about the reemergence of variant 617.
India had gotten hit really bad, as we all know, but the cases are starting to come down at least in certain states. So it really is a mixed bag, some countries are doing well, some countries, for example in South America, are facing difficulties. The most important thing for everyone is to get as many vaccines into people’s arms as quickly as you possibly can. And that’s the thing that is going to ultimately control the outbreak. It is going to be vaccination, so we have got to get people all over the world vaccinated. President Joe Biden yesterday, at the G7, announced that the United States will be giving 500 million doses of vaccines to other low and middle-income countries. Which is the largest donation of vaccines in history.
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NDTV: You and President Biden have both flagged that the Delta variant, one of the two variants that originated in India, is also now present in the US. There was a 6 per cent trace, that you found. How worried are you about it and what exactly are you seeing in terms of its infectivity?
Dr Anthony Fauci: The problem is, that the Delta variant, which is rather dominant in many states of India, is the one that spreads much more rapidly and much more efficiently from person to person. So any country that has Delta variant, should be concerned that there would be a surge of infections, particularly that particular country doesn’t have a substantial proportion of their population vaccinated. We have seen that when Delta variant spreads among non-vaccinated people, it can become dominant very quickly. That’s exactly what is going on in the UK, that the Delta variant is taking over, it is close to 90 per cent dominant right now while in the US, it is only 6 per cent. This is the reason why I have been pushing very hard to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible.
NDTV: In terms of the effectiveness of the existing vaccines against the virus and the emerging variants, what exactly are we seeing in this regard?
Dr Anthony Fauci: Fortunately, the vaccines that are being used in the US, and in many other countries, do reasonably well. They also do quite well against the Alpha variant. A slight moderate diminishing in efficacy has been observed against the Delta variant, however, not so much that you need to worry about it. So, the mRNA vaccines are about 88-90 per cent effective against the Delta variant and about 100 per cent effective against severe disease from them. So, those vaccines seem to be doing reasonably well.
NDTV: Are you in touch with the community here in India, or the government, about the Delta variant?
Dr Anthony Fauci: I have been in discussions with the Ambassador of India to the US, who will be putting me into contact with some of the scientists in India. We have had zoom interactions with a number of scientists, and we have a really good relationship scientifically. I hope as we further, we can go even further in our interactions.
NDTV: What is your take on the possibility of the Third wave of COVID-19 in India?
Dr Anthony Fauci: The occurrence of a third wave is totally linked to vaccination. It is absolutely critical to get as many people as possible, as quickly you can. If you have a country, in which a relatively small proportion of the population is vaccinated, you are vulnerable to the successive waves. We have seen that in the United States, we have had three major waves here and the last one was the most serious one, where we were up to 3,00,000 cases a day and over 3,000 cases per day. There was a period of time, in the late fall and early winter of 2020 and 2021, that we were doing really badly. Now that we have vaccines, we have been able to turn that around.
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NDTV: Should recovered patients get vaccines? Also, what is the ideal time between the two doses of the vaccine?
Dr Anthony Fauci: The Centre of Disease Control in the US recommends that even though you have been infected, you should still get vaccinated. Because vaccines induce a very powerful immune response, and we are still not completely sure of the durability of the protection after the natural infection.
The ideal interval between doses for mRNA vaccines should be 3 weeks for Pfizer and 4 weeks for Moderna. One of the problems with extending the duration is that you become vulnerable to the variants. And we have seen that in the UK, where they have extended the duration between the doses, that in the period of time, you can become vulnerable to the variants. However, if you have a sort supply of vaccine, it may be necessary to extend this interval.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.