Dr. Fauci explains why COVID-19 vaccines work much better than natural immunity to protect you from the coronavirus

fauci gets his first vaccine
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gives a thumbs up after receiving his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at the National Institutes of Health on December 22, 2020 in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci discussed new data suggesting that COVID-19 vaccines “can do better than nature.”
  • People who’ve had prior infections saw their immune response to COVID-19 drastically improve after receiving mRNA vaccines.
  • The finds are a beacon of hope, as new variants (which may reinfect people) circulate the globe.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is calling it: mRNA COVID-19 vaccines can provide people with better protection against new viral variants than a prior coronavirus infection alone can.

During a White House COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, Fauci pointed to several new studies, which, when taken together, suggest that the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna provide great immune protection against newly circulating viral variants.

According to the data, the vaccines bump up any natural protection people may have had from prior infection substantially.

“Vaccines, actually, at least with regard to SARS-CoV-2 [the coronavirus] can do better than nature,” Fauci, America’s leading infectious disease expert, said. “Vaccination in people previously infected significantly boosts the immune response.”

Two of the studies that Fauci referenced during the briefing have been peer-reviewed, meaning other independent scientists have given them a thumbs up, while two others are still awaiting peer approval. But they all tell a very similar story.

Four studies all show superior protection against variants from vaccines

One study found that people who’d had two doses of an mRNA coronavirus vaccine (either Pfizer’s or Moderna’s) had antibody titer levels “up to 10 times” that of a natural infection, Fauci said, suggesting those vaccines give people’s bodies more fighting power against viral variants than a prior illness can.

“You had interesting increased protection against the variants of concern,” Fauci said.

Another small study showed that previously infected people who got vaccinated were exceptionally well protected against three of the five major variants of concern: the P1 variant, first identified in Brazil, the B.1.1.7 variant from the UK which is now dominant in the US, and the B.1.351 variant, first found in South Africa.

But that’s not all. In another study that Fauci mentioned, people who’d been previously infected with COVID also displayed better T-cell immunity after a single dose of Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine. (T cells can help make infections milder, if people do ever get reinfected.)

“Now, remember these are only laboratory data, have not been proven in the clinic,” Fauci said, pointing out that the new studies are based on blood tests, so it’s hard to know exactly how everything would play out with real-world infections and variants. “But they are really very interesting, and things that we need to follow up on,” he added.

The final study Fauci cited suggested that people who have recovered from a prior COVID-19 infection who then get vaccinated may receive great broadband protection, not just against concerning viral variants, but also against other coronaviruses, like SARS, from their COVID-19 vaccination. That’s a virus-fighting power that people who’ve been infected but not vaccinated don’t get.

“Vaccines are highly efficacious,” Fauci concluded. “They are better than the traditional response you get from natural infection.”

fauci showed this slide during wednesday's briefing, which has a graph showing better antibody protection against variants in previously infected people after vaccination
Messenger RNA vaccines (mRNA) are standing up to variants really well, so far.

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Fauci says J&J vaccine pause will likely only last ‘days to weeks,’ not ‘weeks to months’

fauci vaccine covid
Dr. Anthony Fauci directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine pause should not last long.
  • “It’s gonna be more like days to weeks rather than weeks to months,” Fauci said of the delay.
  • Fauci added that this step should assure Americans the government is being transparent.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Tuesday that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause will not cause a protracted delay and should only last “days to weeks,” according to his understanding of the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

“What I heard from the previous press discussion was it’s gonna be more like days to weeks rather than weeks to months,” Fauci said when asked about the extent of the delay at a White House press briefing.

The vaccine rollout was paused on Tuesday over blood clot reports, with the CDC and FDA investigating the small number of negative reactions “out of an abundance of caution.”

Dr. Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s acting commissioner, told reporters earlier in the day that she expects the halt to be temporary.

“We expect it to be a matter of days for this pause,” Woodcock said.

Fauci also pointed to the remote likelihood of similar blood clots occurring for most patients, with the pause centered around six J&J recipients experiencing the problem out of more than 6.8 million doses that have been delivered in the US.

“So someone who maybe had it a month or two ago would say, ‘What does this mean for me?'” Fauci said. “It really doesn’t mean anything. You’re OK because when you look at the time frame of when this occurs, it’s pretty tight, from a few days – six to 13 days – from the time of vaccination.”

As Insider’s Aria Bendix recently reported, Johnson & Johnson has also faced manufacturing issues and reports of fainting at vaccination sites, but the fear of blood clots is likely overblown and does not impact the efficacy of the vaccine.

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CDC director fights back tears as she warns of soaring COVID-19 cases: ‘Right now I’m scared’

dr walensky mar 29
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky at the White House’s virtual COVID-19 briefing on March 29, 2021.

  • Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, was near tears on Monday, warning of a new surge in COVID-19 cases.
  • “Right now, I’m scared,” Walensky said at the White House’s COVID-19 briefing.
  • She urged the public to “hold on a little while longer” while more people get vaccinated.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fought back tears on Monday as she warned that a fourth surge in COVID-19 cases could be on the way.

“Right now I’m scared,” Walensky said during the White House’s COVID-19 press briefing, citing troubling trends in new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths across the US.

After the country’s daily coronavirus case rates peaked in early January at more than 315,000, they dropped steadily through mid-March. But average daily cases have risen about 15% in the last two weeks and average weekly hospitalizations have increased 5%, even as vaccinations continue to ramp up.

Twenty-eight US states have seen an uptick in daily cases over the last few weeks. Michigan’s average weekly cases increased almost four-fold in the last five weeks, while New York’s average weekly case number rose 42% in the last two weeks.

US deaths are still trending down for now, overall, but they typically follow at least three weeks behind rises in cases. An increase in hospitalizations is usually a sign that deaths will follow. At least eight states have already seen daily deaths increase in the last two weeks.

“I’m asking you to just hold on a little longer, to get vaccinated when you can, so that all of those people that we all love will still be here when this pandemic ends,” Walensky said.

Walensky fears a 4th surge

brooklyn freezer trucks morgue coronavirus new york
Refrigerated tractor trailers used to store bodies of deceased people are seen at a temporary morgue in Brooklyn, New York, May 13, 2020.

Walensky warned of “the recurring feeling I have of impending doom,” when looking at the nation’s COVID-19 case numbers lately.

“I’m speaking today not necessarily as your CDC director, not only as your CDC director, but as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter, to ask you to just hold on a little while longer,” she said. “I so badly want to be done. I know you all so badly want to be done. We are just almost there, but not quite yet.”

Some experts think that as the three authorized COVID-19 vaccines become widely available, Americans are getting the false impression that it’s safe to dine indoors, go to bars, or attend large gatherings – whether or not they’re fully vaccinated. Several states, including Texas and Georgia, have already eliminated capacity restrictions for restaurants and bars. At least 16 states no longer have mask requirements.

“For the health of our country, we must work together now to prevent a fourth surge,” Walensky said.

At the same briefing on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, attributed the recent increase in US cases to the nation “really doing things prematurely right now with regard to opening up.”

In an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Fauci also attributed rising cases to the spread of new, more virulent coronavirus strains. The US has identified more than 10,000 cases of B.1.1.7, the variant first detected in the UK, since December. Studies have found that B.1.1.7 is 50% to 70% more contagious than its predecessors, and the CDC says B.1.1.7 now accounts for roughly 26% of sequenced virus nationwide.

‘I know what it’s like … to be the last person to touch someone else’s loved one’

nurse covid-19 icu

Walensky reminded Americans that “we are not powerless” against the virus. She encouraged everyone to continue continue masking, distancing, washing hands, and staying home.

Roughly a third of the country’s adults have had at least one vaccine dose, and a growing body of emerging evidence suggests vaccines do indeed reduce coronavirus transmission, in addition to blunting severe COVID-19 symptoms. But more transmissible variants mean the virus is “probably less forgiving” when people don’t take precautions, Walensky said.

“I know what it’s like as a physician, to stand in that patient room – gowned, gloved, masked, shielded – and to be the last person to touch someone else’s loved one,” she said. “I know what it’s like to pull up to your hospital every day, and see the extra morgue sitting outside.”

To take her CDC role, Dr. Walensky stepped down from her job as chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital roughly two months ago, as the pandemic was killing thousands of Americans every day.

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‘The View’ co-host Meghan McCain complained that she doesn’t know when she’ll be able to get a vaccine and said Fauci should be fired

Meghan McCain
“The fact that I, Meghan McCain, co-host of  “The View,” don’t know when or how I will be able to get a vaccine because the rollout for my age range and my health is so nebulous, I have no idea when and how I get it,” McCain said on Monday’s episode of “The View.”

  • Meghan McCain complained she hadn’t yet received the Covid-19 vaccine.
  • She also called for the removal of Dr. Anthony Fauci from the head of Biden’s Covid taskforce.
  • Experts remain cautious about making recommendations around the vaccine. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Meghan McCain complained about her lack of access to the coronavirus vaccine and called for Dr. Anthony Fauci’s ouster on “The View” on Monday.

McCain showed a clip of Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser for Covid-19, speaking with CNN’s Dana Bash in which Bash asked if it would be safe for her vaccinated parents to spend time with her children. Fauci said he wasn’t ready to make recommendations yet. 

Noting that it had been a year since Americans had gone into quarantine, McCain went on to complain about the lack of clear messaging around coronavirus. “I want to be responsible and obviously wait my turn,” she said, “but this rollout has been a disaster.”

“The fact that I, Meghan McCain, co-host of ‘The View,’ don’t know when or how I will be able to get a vaccine because the rollout for my age range and my health is so nebulous, I have no idea when and how I get it,” she said, seemingly implying that her status as a television host should grant her special access to information about the vaccine. 

Speaking directly to the camera, McCain went on to say that President Trump was to blame for much of the way the virus spread over the past year, but “now we’re in the Biden administration and I, for one, would like something to look forward to and to hope for because if getting the vaccine means that just nothing changes and we have to wait another few years until everyone gets it, there’s already a lot of people not getting it.”

She went on to say that she believed the Biden administration should remove Fauci, apparently angered because “he can’t tell me that if I get the vaccine if I’ll be able to have dinner with my family.”

“So I’m over Dr. Fauci. I think we need to have more people giving more opinions and honestly quite frankly, I think the Biden administration should remove him and put someone in place that does understand science or can talk like these other countries about how we can be more like these other places that are doing this successfully.”

anthony fauci
Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser for Covid-19, said he believed Americans would be wearing masks into next year.

Several hours after the show aired, McCain appeared to double down on her sentiments in a tweet.

 

When asked by Bash on Sunday when he thought things would be getting “back to normal,” Fauci said that he could imagine Americans wearing masks into next year.

“You know, I think it is possible that that’s the case and, again, it really depends on what you mean by normality. I don’t want to be making a recommendation now on public TV,” he said. “I would want to sit down with the team and take a look at that.”

Experts say that people should remain cautious and vigilant, even after receiving the vaccine.

“Immunity is not an on/off switch; it’s a dial,” Eric Lofgren, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Washington State University, told The New York Times. “If you’re below herd immunity, the virus is still happily circulating in the population and there’s always a chance the vaccine isn’t working for you.”

The CDC recommends that people continue to wear masks and practice social distancing even after receiving the vaccine because we “don’t yet know whether getting a COVID-19 vaccine will prevent you from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to other people, even if you don’t get sick yourself.”

Insider has reached out to McCain for comment.

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Fauci: Vaccinated people shouldn’t dine indoors or go to the theater quite yet

fauci vaccine covid
Dr. Anthony Fauci directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

  • Fauci says even if you’re fully vaccinated, indoor dining and theater-going should be off-limits.
  • The number of coronavirus cases in the US remains high.
  • As more people get vaccinated and cases drop, it may become safe to do things indoors with crowds again.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US’ leading infectious disease expert, is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, but you won’t likely find him dining in at any restaurants or catching a movie in theaters just yet.

“There are things, even if you’re vaccinated, that you’re not going to be able to do in society,” Fauci said on Monday during a White House COVID-19 press briefing. “For example, indoor dining, theaters, places where people congregate. That’s because of the safety of society.”

Fauci’s comments came on the same day the US passed the grim milestone of 500,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. He stressed that while being vaccinated dramatically increases your “own personal safety,” it’s not a free pass to go out and party like it’s 2019, at least not yet.

“Because the burden of virus in society will be very high – which it is right now,” he said.

Vaccines don’t necessarily prevent the spread of COVID-19

Though the number of new coronavirus cases in the US has fallen dramatically in recent weeks, the virus is still spreading, with nearly 450,000 COVID-19 cases nationwide documented in the past week. 

“We are still at an unacceptably high baseline level,” Fauci said on Monday during the briefing. 

Though vaccines can help prevent people from contracting severe cases of COVID-19, the jabs may not stop them from getting sick altogether. It’s still unclear whether vaccinated people can be disease carriers, which means they might spread illnesses to unvaccinated people in a community where vaccination is not near universal yet, prolonging the pandemic. 

“We hope that when the data comes in, it’s going to show that the virus level is quite low and you’re not transmitting it,” but, Fauci cautioned, “we don’t know that now. And for that reason, we want to make sure that people continue to wear masks despite the fact that they’re vaccinated.”

Early signs are looking promising that vaccinated people may not spread the virus well, but it’s still too soon to say for sure. 

Fauci has suggested waiting until the fall to re-open movie theaters 

fauci vaccine
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, prepares to receive his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at the National Institutes of Health on December 22, 2020 in Bethesda, Maryland.

Fauci’s remarks came on the same day that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced movie theaters in his state will reopen in early March. Indoor weddings and catered events of up to 150 people will also be allowed to resume in New York mid-March.

Fauci has suggested before that a better strategy would be to reopen theaters in the fall, when a more “substantial portion” of the US has been vaccinated. 

In the meantime, there’s still the possibility for safe, distanced (and masked) outdoor sports and events, like Fauci’s favorite, baseball.

“I would hope that by the time we get into May, June, July, that we will have enough people vaccinated in the country that the level of infection would be low enough – maybe not yet total herd immunity – but low enough to say that we can go to a game, you know: wear a mask, but be seated – not sitting right next to each other,” Fauci previously said during an online Q&A with JAMA.

COVID-19 vaccines are already giving relief to millions of people across the country, on an individual level, from the prospect of severe disease and death. 

“People are interested in taking the [COVID-19] vaccine in large numbers for the same reason people are interested in taking the vaccines for MMR and for the flu,” Andy Slavitt, the White House Senior Advisor for COVID-19 response, said at the briefing with Fauci. 

“Because they want to live. They don’t want it to be sick, and they don’t want to die.”

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Fauci said baseball fans will likely be able to attend games this summer – and he wants another shot at pitching after his ’embarrassing’ appearance last year

fauci disappointment
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci totally botched his ceremonial first pitch for the Washington Nationals in 2020.
  • He wants a redo in 2021.
  • Fauci expects that by the summer, enough Americans may be vaccinated to go to socially-distanced games safely.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is hoping he’ll be able to go see his favorite team, the Washington Nationals, play baseball this summer, even if things at Nationals Park might look a little different because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I hope that there will at least be – at least – be some limited stadium seating in the summer,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a Q&A with the editor in chief of JAMA on Wednesday afternoon. 

He imagined that baseball games could be held safely by then (with some restrictions), as more people get vaccinated.

“I would hope that by the time we get into May, June, July, that we will have enough people vaccinated in the country that the level of infection would be low enough – maybe not yet total herd immunity – but low enough to say that we can go to a game, you know: wear a mask, but be seated – not sitting right next to each other,” Fauci said.

Fauci has been working nonstop, 18-hour days since the coronavirus crisis began in the US more than a year ago.

Baseball would be a welcome reprieve from his day job, he said.

“That’s one of the sources of my relaxation,” he said. “There’s a certain something, a certain rhythm of a baseball game that some people think it may be too slow, but to me it’s very soothing.”

So soothing, perhaps, that when he was was invited to throw out the first ceremonial pitch at the top of the 2020 season, he completely bungled it. (Though his image still managed to become America’s bestselling baseball card). Fauci said he’d welcome an invitation for a redo of the first pitch this year. 

“I’m hoping that they give me the chance to do that,” Fauci added, cracking a wide smile. “It was quite embarrassing.”

Check out the original footage of Fauci’s 2020 pitch fail for yourself.

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