Delta variant will cause US Covid surges, Fauci says, as poll reveals vaccine resistance

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<span>Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/AP</span>
Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/AP

The US will soon see surges in cases of the highly infectious Delta variant of Covid-19 in areas where vaccination rates are low, Anthony Fauci has predicted, calling resistance to vaccination “sad” and “tragic”.

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Such resistance is particularly strong among Republicans: a Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Sunday found that 86% of Democrats but only 45% of Republicans have received at least one shot.

The same poll found that a third of adults who had not had a shot said they would not or probably would not get one. Of those respondents, nearly three-quarters said officials like Fauci were exaggerating the risk posed by the Delta variant. A little more than three-quarters believed they had little or no risk of contracting Covid-19.

The Biden administration continues to tout the success of its vaccination campaign, with 66.8% of US adults and 54.6% of all Americans having received at least one dose by 1 July.

But a target of 70% of adults with at least one shot by 4 July was missed and more than 605,000 have died. On Sunday, the administration was set to hold a Fourth of July celebration at the White House, with close to a thousand guests. Unvaccinated guests were told they needed to wear a mask – but there was no mandate in place. Mandates have also been withdrawn in states with low vaccination rates.

For goodness’ sakes, put aside all of those differences and realise that the common enemy is the virus

Anthony Fauci

Fauci, Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, has served seven presidents since 1984 as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He spoke to NBC’s Meet the Press.

Asked if the Delta variant was more lethal than others and if he was concerned it could cause a spike in cases as society reopens, he said: “I don’t think you’re going to be seeing anything nationwide, because fortunately we have a substantial proportion of the population vaccinated. So it’s going to be regional.”

Fauci also said Americans could be confused as Delta cases rise.

“We’re going to see … almost two types of America,” he said. “You know, those regions of America which are highly vaccinated and we have a low level of dynamics of infection. And in some places, some states, some cities, some areas, where the level of vaccination is low and the level of virus dissemination is high – that’s where you’re going to see the spikes.”

Asa Hutchinson, the Republican governor of Arkansas, a state facing a possible “third surge” of Covid cases, told CNN’s State of the Union “the solution is the vaccinations” and said his state was doing well in protecting senior citizens.

But, he added, “in a rural state, a conservative state, there is hesitancy and you’re trying to overcome it. We got the early vaccinations out … our cases went down dramatically and that slows the vaccination rate, the urgency diminishes and now it’s picking up again.”

Hutchinson said he would concentrate on working with employers to boost vaccination rates. On ABC’s This Week, Jim Justice, the Republican governor of West Virginia, said it would take a “catastrophe” to boost vaccination rates there.

“I hate to say this,” he said, “but what would put [people] over the edge [to get vaccinated] is if an awful lot of people die.”

Fauci told NBC that of nearly 10,000 US deaths in June, “about 99.2% are unvaccinated. About 0.8% are vaccinated. No vaccine is perfect. But when you talk about the avoidability of hospitalisation and death, it’s really sad and tragic that most of these are avoidable and preventable.

“… Because of the variability among people and their response to vaccine, you’ll see some who are vaccinated and still get into trouble and get hospitalised and die. But the overwhelming proportion of people who get into trouble are the unvaccinated. Which is the reason why we say this is really entirely avoidable and preventable.”

Elsewhere, the director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, told Politico resistance to vaccines among evangelical Christians was “heartbreaking”.

“It’s heartbreaking that it’s come to this over something that is potentially lifesaving and yet has been so completely colored over by political views and conspiracies that it’s impossible to have a simple loving conversation with your flock,” said Collins, himself a devout Christian.

“That is a sad diagnosis of the illness that afflicts our country, and I’m not talking about Covid-19. I’m talking about polarisation, tribalism even within what should be the loving community of a Christian church.”

On NBC, Fauci was asked about this “clear political divide”. He said: “We do have a countermeasure that’s highly, highly effective, that’s the reason why it’s all the more sad and all the more tragic why it isn’t being completely implemented in this country.

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“And whatever the reasons, some of them are ideologic, some of them are just fundamentally anti-vax or anti-science or what have you. But, you know, we just need to put that aside now. We’re dealing with a historic situation with this pandemic. And we do have the tools to counter it. So for goodness’ sakes, put aside all of those differences and realise that the common enemy is the virus.”

Fauci also addressed worldwide vaccine shortages, saying the US was “very fortunate. We have enough vaccines to vaccinate essentially everybody in the country. And there are people throughout the world who would do anything to get vaccines.”

On Saturday, Dame Sarah Gilbert, an Oxford professor who led development of the AstraZeneca vaccine, told the Observer moves to vaccinate children in richer countries should be balanced against the need to extend access to adults worldwide.

Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus coordinator, told CNN that “once or if the FDA authorises vaccines for children, we are ready to have the supplies to help state and local officials and pediatricians, apply those shots in arms”.

Zients also said the administration would “double down on our efforts to vaccinate millions of Americans across July and August”.

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