““We are certainly right now in this country out of the pandemic phase. Namely, we don’t have 900,000 new infections a day and tens and tens and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. We are at a low level right now.””
That was Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, responding to journalist Judy Woodruff’s question about how close we are to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic during a PBS Newshour interview that aired Tuesday.
But the infectious disease expert who became a household name during the White House’s daily coronavirus briefings in 2020 also said that the query “How close are we to the end of this pandemic?” is really an “unanswerable question.”
“’Pandemic’ means a widespread, throughout the world infection that spreads rapidly among people,” he said. “So, if you look at the global situation, there’s no doubt this pandemic is still ongoing.”
Indeed, global cases passed 511.1 million on Tuesday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll climbed above 6.22 million. And the U.S. is averaging 49,423 cases a day according to a New York Times tracker, which is up 53% from two weeks ago. But as Fauci said on PBS, “we don’t have 900,000 new infections a day and tens and tens and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. We are at a low level right now.”
He noted that cases are probably under-reported, however, probably because many Americans who have developed some degree of immunity through vaccination or prior COVID infection aren’t experiencing as many symptoms when they get COVID, so they are not going to the hospital or reporting the infection to government officials or public health organizations.
“There are many people, people who I know myself, friends and others, who get infected, who do an antigen test, don’t get many symptoms, but don’t report it to anyone,” he said. “So, the fact is, there are infections that are not getting centrally reported.”
Some 219.4 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 66.1% of the total population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker. And 100.2 million are boosted, equal to 45.7% of the vaccinated population.
“So I do believe that there’s an undercount. We should do better than that,” he continued. “We should probably be able to track them much better.”
Fauci also said that the country isn’t taking advantage of the COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid developed by Pfizer enough. “We are under utilizing what is a highly effective therapy,” he said.
“In clinical trials, when you looked at the proportion of individuals who were protected from getting on and progressing to hospitalizations, it was close to 90%,” he said. “So we need to do more. There are a lot of doses available.”
Indeed, the White House announced Tuesday — the same day that Vice President Kamala Harris revealed she had tested positive for COVID — that Paxlovid will now be distributed directly to pharmacies, and it was stepping up the distribution of the antiviral drug in state-run clinics and other existing distribution channels.
Harris, 57, who has been asymptomatic, is taking Paxlovid to treat her infection “after consultation with her physicians,” her spokeswoman Kirsten Allen said in a tweet. She hasn’t had close contact with President Joe Biden, and will work in isolation in the vice president’s residence until she is back in the clear.
“We have ordered tens of thousands more of these drugs, namely Paxlovid,” Fauci said. “We started off with 20,000 sites [that] have Paxlovid available. We’re increasing that to 30,000, with the aim of going to 40,000, essentially doubling the number of sites where you can get it.”
The White House also told doctors that they shouldn’t think twice about prescribing the pill to eligible patients.
“This is something that is available and that should be much more widely used,” said Fauci.