FULL EPISODE: 3/14/21 NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci covers the latest on COVID vaccination efforts

Updated: Mar. 14, 2021 at 4:18 AM EST
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Washington, D.C. – Greta Van Susteren interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden and director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and separately, a COVID “long-hauler,” a previously healthy person who now has an extensive list of medical issues after contracting the coronavirus, for Gray Television’s “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren” airing Sunday, March 14, 2021.

Portions of the interviews will also air in a Gray Television primetime special, “COVID Crisis: the Long Haul,” on Saturday, March 13, 2021, marking one year since the pandemic began.

Dr. Fauci told Van Susteren that the development of three COVID vaccines within a year was “extraordinary,” citing not only the speed in which they’ve been distributed, but their safety and efficacy as well. “On a one to 10 scale, that’s about a 15,” he said.

Fauci also said the road to herd immunity involved getting 70 to 85% of the population vaccinated. And he explained that as more older people receive the vaccine, family members and neighbors can once begin to gather in each other homes, giving this example: “If the granddaughter and the mother are not vaccinated as long as they are low risk of getting severe disease, grandma who’s vaccinated can come in; you can have physical interaction, you don’t need to wear a mask.”

An advance transcript of Greta Van Susteren’s full interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci is below. Select video clips can be found here.

Dr. Anthony Fauci Transcript

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

Dr. Fauci, on a one to 10 scale, how astonishing or stunning is it that we have not just one, but we have two, we have three vaccines approved for emergency use by the FDA here in the United States in a year?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

On a one to 10 scale, that’s about a 15. It really is extraordinary. I mean, I think if you look at one success story that really stands out in this very, very difficult experience that we all have throughout the world with this historic pandemic, it has been not only the speed with which vaccines have been put into people’s arms in a safe way that’s scientifically sound, but the fact that you have vaccines that are extraordinarily efficacious and safe. If several years ago you would have said from the time you have a recognition of a new pathogen, in this case, the coronavirus in January of 2020, that 11 months later in December of 2020 you actually had vaccines that have been proven to be safe and efficacious going into people’s arms, most anybody would have told you that you’re often in a different galaxy. It’s not going to happen now. And that was the reaction that a lot of people had.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

The important thing is that safety was not compromised nor was scientific integrity compromised. It was merely a really profound reflection of the extraordinary advances that have been made in the science of vaccine platform technology, immunogen design. All of the things that had years and years of fundamental, basic preclinical and clinical research that fed into this process that looks like it was rapid, but it was backed up by decades of fundamental research.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

Well, what it says it’s like 95%. And actually, I remember once talking to you and you said, “If we ever get to 70, that would be huge,” but we’re already up to 95. Does that mean that it doesn’t work for one in 20 people or something? What does that mean?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

Yeah, that’s exactly right. So, for example, if you looked at the original data that came from the Moderna and the Pfizer studies that they were like 95 or 97, whatever the number was, events in the trial like four of them were in the vaccine and 92 of them were in the placebo. And that’s how you just get a calculation of the percentage of the difference between placebo compared to people who’ve actually gotten the vaccine. That’s how you get it. Now it would be 100% if you had no infections in the vaccine and 100 infections in the placebo. But since there were just a couple, a few in the vaccine and the rest of them were in the placebo, that’s where you get the 94 to 95%.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

Why is it that it doesn’t work for some? Is it because, let me focus on Moderna and Pfizer that it’s sort of as I understand it, it’s a vocational training vaccine in a sense that it goes into your body and tells your immune system what to do. But why does it not work for some? Is it if they don’t have a robust immune system to begin with or why won’t it work for them?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

In the human species, Greta, there’s a great [amount] of biological variability. It’s called polymorphism. That as similar as you and I are in so many respects as two human beings, you might have an immune system that responds a little bit less to this particular antigen than my immune system.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

Whereas in another situation, I might respond a little bit less than you do to something else. It’s merely the biological variability within our species, which is entirely normal. You almost never get 100% conformity of everybody to a particular response. Almost never.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

How long do the vaccines last? And do we know can we tell, or do we have to wait until all of a sudden it doesn’t work?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

We have to wait. We don’t know. I mean, we are still in the very early stages of the follow-up of this vaccine. We know now that it certainly lasts for several months because we’ve been in it for several months. If at the end of a year or two, it still has a high level of protection, then you could say it lasts for one or two years or longer. We just don’t know right now. It’s really a matter of following it throughout the coming months and years.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

Now let me turn to the issue of mutation and variants in the vaccines. And I read some promising things that Moderna and Pfizer, for instance, may be able to protect us from the Brazilian, the South African and the UK strains. But I assume that there comes a time when there’s some mutation where it’s such a disguise to the vaccine, that the vaccine doesn’t rev up our immune system to handle it. Am I right?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

No, you’re right, but we’ve been fortunate now because what we’ve seen, for example, one of the variants, the 117, which is the variant that originated in the UK that has the capability of spreading more rapidly, but also has the capability of perhaps being a bit more serious. Fortunately for us, the antibodies that are induced by the vaccines that we currently are using actually protect very well against that variant.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

A little bit more problematic with the South African variants in which the protection against moderate disease is less, but there’s still enough cushion in the response to the vaccine that prevents you from severe disease leading to hospitalizations and deaths. So even though you may diminish somewhat the response, the fact is all of the vaccines seem to protect very well against hospitalization and death.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

Is there any way to tell who the vaccine isn’t going to help? Who’s like, for instance, in that 5% with Moderna or the 30% with Pfizer and is there anyone who should not get the vaccine?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

Well, the answer is there’s no way of really predicting. It’s just one of those things. As I mentioned, there’s a considerable degree of biological variability. There really are no contraindications to get a vaccine that’s not a live attenuated vaccine. This is not a live virus vaccine. If it were, there would be some individuals who shouldn’t get it, pregnant women, people with underlying immunodeficiencies. But since this is a vaccine in which you’re responding not against the whole virus, but against the protein of the virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

So you’re not getting injected with anything that’s replication-competent. There really is no reason. There’s one way out if you happen to be allergic with an anaphylactic reaction to a well-described entity in the vaccine, then you shouldn’t get that particular vaccine. But there are people who have allergic reactions right now are very, very few. We have about four per million.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

All right. Some people get absolutely no reaction from the Johnson & Johnson or the two Pfizer and the two Moderna. And then some people might get a sore arm or might get chills and a fever the next day. Why is it that some immune systems seem to get sort of revved up and recognize that the vaccine is there? They seem to at least acknowledge the vaccines there. And it seems to me that the other ones they’re like, whatever.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

Well, again, you’re asking good questions. I’m giving you a sort of a monolithic answer. It’s the biological variability from person to person.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

So it doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean whether the vaccine is likely to work because obviously in some instances there’s a bigger reaction. Yeah, it’s just totally irrelevant to whether the vaccine is likely to work for you or protect you.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

Well, the fact that you get maybe an ache, fatigue, a chill for 24 hours indicates that the inflammatory process in your body is manifesting itself so you can feel it. That is associated with an immune response. Some people get very little of that reaction. That doesn’t mean that they’re not getting an immune response.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

Let me explain it this way. If you get a reaction, you’re getting an immune response. If you don’t get a reaction, that doesn’t mean that you’re not getting an immune response. You can’t say because someone didn’t get a shaking chill or didn’t get an ache or didn’t feel fatigued, that they’re not going to have a good immune response. You can’t say that. What you can say is that if you do get those symptoms, you very likely are getting a good immune response.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

I realized this has been a very confusing virus, sir. We’ve just been learning about it for the last year. We continue to learn about it, but the CDC issued some guidance and said, “Totally vaccinated people can get together in small groups.” And I’m thinking to myself, “Well, what’s a small group?” Is that four, is that six and why not 50? Is that because it’s only 95% effective the vaccine I might’ve gotten so that the odds are? Is this a statistical determination? Explain this to me.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

Yeah. What they’re saying and this is the first step in a series of recommendations that will be coming out in short order about the kinds of things you can do. The first iteration of that was the fundamental question that people were asking in the setting of a home with a group of people, family members, or even friends from a single household, not multiple households. Because the more you get multiple households, the bigger the crowd, the greater the risk.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

It says that if you are here with your family and you have neighbors who are fully vaccinated and you’re all fully vaccinated, you can get together at a dinner or a social event with no mask and without physical distancing. Also, if you want to visit, let’s take an example. If grandma is vaccinated, okay? She wants to visit her daughter and her granddaughter. You go to the house, if the granddaughter and the mother are not vaccinated as long as they are low risk of getting severe disease, grandma who’s vaccinated can come in; you can have physical interaction, you don’t need to wear a mask.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

All right and that’s because grandma could still be a carrier, even though she’d vaccinated, but there’s a low risk for the people.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

It’s a low, low, low risk. And since the people in the house are at very low risk of getting severe disease if the one in many, many, many, many chances that grandma could be without symptoms infected and infect the mother and the granddaughter, the chances of them getting seriously ill are very, very low. However, if either the daughter or the granddaughter are in a category of a severe risk of infection, not a severe risk, but a risk of severe infection, then you got to wear masks.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

But if you got 10 people all vaccinated, no symptoms, you’re a month out from the last shot or last vaccination, why? And since this vaccine is so effective, what’s wrong with 40 people together in the same category? I mean, it seems like if this vaccine is as powerful and potent as we think it seems like if they’re all vaccinated all of two weeks, three weeks out, why not raise that number?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

Right. And that’s what the CDC will be doing is always re-examining as more information comes in. The reason they’re being cautious now, they want to go step-by-step and not have people all of a sudden like a light switch say, “Okay, all bets are off.” The fewer number of people, the lower the risk. Even though 10, 15, 20 still might be a very, very low risk. The fact is the more people, the greater the risk. And they are trying to start off with the first steps being the absolute minimal risk.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

And then as they promised, that in a reasonable period of time, they’re going to be more granular about what you can do not only with the number of people, but what about travel? What about going to a restaurant? What about going outside? Those kinds of things. All of that will be forthcoming.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

All right, let me turn to schools and the opening of schools. It seems to me that as we get more and more testing, these home tests, which the FDA has recently approved at least one. It’s a little bit pricey, I think $50 a test. But if we could test people like in a school almost on a daily basis, because it’s a snapshot of your condition at the time, wouldn’t that accelerate some of the school openings as well as perhaps reduce some of the fear that some people have?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

Right. Yes. This is a moving target and the CDC will be keeping up with the data and continue to make recommendations based on the data. Let me tell you about the moving target, Greta. So you’re right. If you were able to test that the students and the teachers frequently enough to know what the penetrance of infection is, that’s one moving target that’s moving in the right direction.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

And that’d be huge, would it not? I mean, that’d be pretty big.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

But number two, the more teachers that get vaccinated, the more you’re going to decompress the concern about teachers coming into a classroom in an area where there’s a higher degree of infection. And we know the president has said himself very clearly that among the 1B groups of essential personnel, that teachers should be given a high priority.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

And number three, which is really important. The more we vaccinate people in the community, the lower and lower will be the infection rate in the community and the lower you get, then you go from a red to an orange to a yellow to a blue zone. So that, get the level in the community low, increase testing in the kids, get the teachers vaccinated and you’ll see it’ll be easier and easier to get those schools open and stay open.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

All right, let me turn to therapeutics and what many of us just call medicine that you get when you get sick. In the beginning, a year ago, it was hydroxychloroquine. That’s out. And then as the year progressed, we got a series of new treatments and new ideas. Convalescent plasma, I think an NIH study has just stopped because that hasn’t been successful. Today if you present yourself sick at the hospital where they want to hospitalize you, a year ago they put you on your back. They don’t do that anymore. I mean, what’s the protocol for taking care of a sick person now, what’s the medicine, and what’s the protocol?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

Well, first of all, you got to divide it into people who are sick, but not in the hospital. And the best approach early on is that recent studies from both Lily and Regeneron have indicated that there are monoclonal antibodies that are effective if you give them early enough. [crosstalk 00:16:45]

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

Can I just stop you for one second? Those are antibodies made in the lab not in your body, right?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

Right.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

They’re made in the lab because your body’s not doing it.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

And they’re highly specific against the virus. The thing that we do have interventions against when you have advanced disease. One of the best of these is dexamethasone, which has been shown clearly in individuals who are hospitalized, who either are on a ventilator or have a high flow oxygen requirement that dexamethasone significantly diminishes the 28-day mortality.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

In addition, there are other agents that blunt inflammation, such as some of the cytokines that are involved in the inflammatory response, such as interleukin-6 and others. Those agents when given together with dexamethasone make the positive effect even greater.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

Am I correct in saying that the reason you give those is because your body is overreacting, your immune system is working too hard and you’ve got so much inflammation because of that that those steroids basically reduce the inflammation because they’re working too hard?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

The answer is yes, but that leads us to another thing that we should mention. You’re right. Treating early means going after the virus. Treating later means going after the aberrant and harmful immunologic and inflammatory response. With regard to treating early, the thing that we’re putting a lot of effort into right now is direct antiviral agents, which are designed specifically against vulnerable parts of the virus’ replication cycle. And in fact, that’s exactly the strategy that gave us a large number of highly successful drugs against HIV and against hepatitis C. We’re putting a lot of effort into that now. And I think that is going to be the solution of treating the virus in this disease in addition to the inflammatory response.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

And treating the virus and getting that viral load down and what you’re just speaking about, usually at least as far as I could see that’s like when you get to the hospital and you’re sick. When you have something different, the flu, you can call up your doctor and get a pill and get Tamiflu to reduce the viral load so you don’t get to that sicker stage. So you didn’t get that huge viral load and end up in the hospital.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

I read that, I think at least Merck is reducing on something that, a pill so that you could take before you even get to that huge stage, sort of cut it off at the pass. Are we working on a sort of pre-hospitalization medication to reduce that viral load so it doesn’t get to that point?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

That’s exactly what I just said...

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

You said it in science words. I’m trying to...

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

You said it very clearly. Greta, that’s exactly correct. We’re putting a major effort on direct antiviral agents that attack the virus early on to prevent you from the necessity of getting into the hospital. So that when you wind up saying, “I’ve lost my smell and taste, I got a little ache. I have a sore throat. I’m a little short of breath.” Give a person a pill for seven, 10, whatever days and suppress that virus so that they don’t have to.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

Merck has a product that we’re testing, that they’re testing. Pfizer has a product, a company Atia has a product. There are a number of products right now that are being tested in various phases of trials to do just that, block the virus early.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

One last question. It may be playing to the viewers. I’m in favor of a vaccine. I mean, I’m a vaccine person, but I hear a lot of people saying that they’re going to rely on “herd immunity.” And it seems to me that you get herd immunity by either everybody getting sick or everybody getting vaccinated so that you’re not spreading it and getting sick. I don’t know if I’m right on that, that’s sort of two ways you get herd immunity. But is there a sort of timetable? When are we going to achieve this magical herd immunity and does the presence of, of variants and mutations work against that?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

The presence of variants and mutations could be problematic, but we can get around that by vaccination. So the issue is we want to get about 70 to 85% of the population vaccinated to get what’s called herd immunity, where the umbrella of protection on the community is so efficient that even vulnerable people who were either have not been vaccinated or don’t respond well to the vaccine can be protected because the virus doesn’t have any place to go. It’s very difficult for the virus to find the vulnerable person when you have so many people that are protected. That’s what herd immunity is.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

I believe even though it’s just the estimate now, because we haven’t proven it. That would mean that about 70 to 85% of people need to be vaccinated. The road to herd immunity, the safest road is vaccination, not waiting to get more people infected. It’s vaccination. So when your turn comes up to get vaccinated, get vaccinated.

Greta Van Susteren, Gray TV Chief National Political Analyst

Dr. Fauci, thank you very much. It’s always nice to talk to you, sir.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser

Same here, Greta. Thank you for having me.

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About Greta Van Susteren:

Greta Van Susteren is the Chief Political Analyst for Gray Media and host of Full Court Press. Ms. Van Susteren is a veteran of Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN. Her prime-time Fox News Channel Show, “On the Record,” was number 1 in its time slot for 14 1⁄2 years. Before joining Fox News, she hosted CNN’s prime-time news and analysis program, “The Point with Greta Van Susteren,” and co-hosted the network’s daily legal analysis show, “Burden of Proof.” Her legal analysis for CNN’s coverage of Election 2000 earned her the American Bar Association’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Journalism. She continues to host the weekly 30-minute program “Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren” on Voice of America, which broadcasts exclusively outside of the United States.

About “Full Court Press” and Gray Television:

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