The federal government does not require the COVID-19 vaccine, but Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that he would welcome more mandates at the local level, particularly once the Food and Drug Administration grants the shots a full license instead of relying on an emergency authorization.
Dr. Fauci was responding to a question from Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” about whether the doctor thought it was generally a good idea for schools and businesses to require vaccinations.
“I remain of that opinion, that I do believe, at the local level, Jake, there should be more mandates. There really should be. We’re talking about a life-and-death situation. We have lost 600,000 Americans already, and we’re still losing more people,” said Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“There have been 4 million deaths worldwide,” he said. “This is serious business. So I am in favor of that.”
While studiously avoiding talk of federal-level mandates, the White House has taken a hands-off approach to colleges and businesses that decide to require vaccinations for their employees.
President Biden could require some entities, notably the military, to mandate vaccines, but he hasn’t so far.
Kathleen Sebelius, who served as health and human services secretary in the Obama administration, said it’s time for more places to require the shots. The vaccines have been deemed highly effective, yet not perfect, and children younger than 12 aren’t eligible.
“I’m trying to restrain myself, but I’ve kind of had it,” Ms. Sebelius told The New York Times. “You know, we’re going to tiptoe around mandates. It’s like, come on. I’m kind of over that. I want to make sure that people I deal with don’t have it so I don’t transmit it to my granddaughter.”
Less than half of the U.S. population, roughly 48%, is fully vaccinated. Experts say a 70% to 90% rate is needed to truly wrangle the pathogen because fast-moving variants offer new perils.
Dr. Fauci said he expects governments to impose some mandates once the FDA finishes its review of applications and grants full biologics licenses. The vaccines are being administered under an emergency use authorization, which indicates that the benefits outweigh any risks.
“I think the hesitancy at the local level of doing mandates is because the vaccines have not been officially fully approved. But people need to understand that the amount of data right now that shows a high degree of effectiveness and a high degree of safety is more than we have ever seen with emergency use authorization,” he said.
The complete review may take a bit longer, but “it’s as good as done. People should understand that,” Dr. Fauci said.
In the meantime, Dr. Fauci said, the government is relying on trusted messengers — doctors, clergy and sports figures — to highlight in a “non-finger-pointing way” why it is important to get protection from COVID-19 and how lucky Americans are to have a stock of vaccines.
“There are places in the world, many places, where the vaccination availability is practically nil. Those people would do anything to get a vaccine. We in the United States have enough vaccinations to give to everybody in the country,” the doctor said. “The public health officials, like myself and my colleagues, are asking you to do something that will ultimately save your life and that of your family and that of the community.”
The doctor bemoaned the political divide over the vaccines. Counties that voted for Mr. Biden have better vaccination rates overall than those that supported former President Donald Trump.
“I really don’t have a good explanation for why this is happening. It’s ideological rigidity, I think,” Dr. Fauci said. “Vaccinations have nothing to do with politics. The virus doesn’t know if you’re a Democrat, a Republican or an independent.”
He said it was “almost frightening” to see a panelist at the Conservative Political Action Conference deride the government for trying to “sucker” 90% of the U.S. population into getting vaccinated.
“It’s horrifying,” Dr. Fauci said. “I just don’t get that.”