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The United States has seen a decline in cases and hospitalizations since the summer delta wave, but the decline is slowing.
COVID-19 still kills more than 1,000 people in the US every day. New cases still hover around 72,000 a day — and infections are even on the rise in some parts of the country, including parts of the mountain west and northeast.
“Certainly things are moving in the right direction with the reduction in cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser for COVID-19, to NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly. “The deflection steepness isn’t as good as it was, let’s say a month or so ago…it’s gone down to a lower number.”
The concern among health officials like Fauci is that winter holidays and cold weather will soon lead to more travel and indoor gatherings – where a respiratory virus will be more easily transmitted.
So what is the goal at this stage of the pandemic? Fauci offered a qualitative assessment.
“We are looking for a level of control… where the level of infection – mainly through vaccination, but also people who may be infected and have some degree of protection – will not disrupt society as the COVID-19 outbreak is currently doing to us,” said Fauci.
Measuring that target will be “multi-stage,” he said. Deaths and hospitalizations are an important indicator, but so is the number of infections – and so is vaccination coverage as a way to help prevent serious illness.
“We want to do all of the above,” Fauci said.
Fauci noted that the country “needs”[s] to do better” with adolescent vaccination rates, pointing out that more than 60 million people in the US are eligible for vaccination but have not yet been vaccinated. But he said “something that is in our favor” is the possibility to about 28 million children ages 5 to 11 who were eligible for a vaccine this week.
“So if we go into the winter months with the challenge of a respiratory infection getting worse in the winter months, we can get through this if we really put in a lot of effort to get as many people vaccinated as we can,” Fauci said. .
He urged parents to get their 5- to 11-year-old children vaccinated, citing “really good efficacy and really good safety profile.”
“I’d tell parents, while a child is less likely to get a serious result from an infection than it is in adults, especially an older adult, it’s not something that’s trivial in children,” he said.
He also commented on the development of anti-COVID pills that can reduce the severity of infections.
An antiviral drug made by Merck also received approval in the UK on Thursday. And pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced Friday that its antiviral drug reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% in a clinical trial.
“The results were really quite striking,” Fauci said of the Pfizer data.
He cautioned, however, that the promise of therapeutic drugs was not a substitute for vaccinations that would prevent or reduce infections in the first place.
“Traditionally, it’s the best way — not just with COVID-19, but with any infection — it’s always, always better to prevent it than to worry about treating it,” he said.