Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday it is exceedingly rare for a major religion to oppose vaccines but recognized it will be hard to referee situations in which workers say their faith makes it impossible for them to get the COVID-19 shots.
“We looked at this years ago when people were claiming religious exemptions to avoid getting measles vaccines,” Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “There are precious few religions that actually say you cannot do that.”
Many employers that are imposing vaccine mandates offer medical exemptions in order to satisfy federal laws, but religious exemptions are a thornier issue. Some people say their body is a “temple” or cite Bible verses in pursuit of religious exemptions, though experts say organized religions have few formal objections to the vaccines.
Some Catholics object to historical ties between stem cell lines used to make or test the vaccines and abortion. However, Pope Francis has spoken in support of the vaccines and says people are not complicit in sin by taking the shots, which don’t require ongoing abortions.
Dr. Fauci said sometimes people conflate a philosophical objection they have with a formal objection from a major religion. Still, he said, employers have to walk a fine line as they cajole employees to get the shots or face consequences.
“That’s going to be very difficult. I would hope that people would understand that all of this is for their benefit,” Dr. Fauci said.
He also rejected polling results, raised by CNN host Dana Bash, that show many people in the Republican Party think the pandemic is being driven by migrants and tourists.
“Look at the people who are in the hospital. This is not driven by immigrants,” Dr. Fauci said, noting other countries face transmission within their populations. “The problem is within our own country. Certainly, immigrants can get infected but they’re not the drivers of this.”
The high-profile doctor spoke two days after the U.S. passed 700,000 deaths from the virus that’s bedeviled the world since its discovery at the end of 2019 in China.
“It’s a very painful statistic,” Dr. Fauci said.
President Biden on Saturday urged Americans not to become numb to the sorrow wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“On this day and every day, we remember all those we have lost to this pandemic and we pray for their loved ones left behind who are missing a piece of their soul,” Mr. Biden said in a statement.
The U.S. surpassed 700,000 COVID-19 related deaths on Friday and still leads the world in COVID-cases and deaths, accounting for 19% and 14% respectively. On average, the U.S. reported about 2,000 deaths per day over the past week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Globally, the pandemic is set to surpass more than 5 million deaths. The highly transmissible delta variant has fueled a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Mr. Biden, who received a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, urged Americans to get vaccinated.
“More than three-quarters of all Americans age 12 and up have now received at least one vaccine dose — including nearly 94 percent of all seniors. Hundreds of thousands of families have been spared the unbearable loss that too many Americans have already endured during this pandemic,” he said.
Dr. Fauci said many COVID-19 deaths were unavoidable, as the virus spread far and wide early on, but many were avoidable after the vaccine became widely available earlier this year. Around 70 million eligible persons have not come forward for an initial dose.
“We do have interventions in the form of a vaccine to prevent infections, to prevent severe disease, to prevent death,” Dr. Fauci said. “Let’s utilize it.”
Also Sunday, the doctor said positive clinical results from a pill to treat COVID-19 are “tremendously important.” Drug manufacturer Merck said its product cut the risk of hospitalization and death by half in trials involving high-risk persons, with eight deaths in the placebo group and none in the group that took the medication.
Dr. Fauci said he looks forward to seeing the medication in use, pending regulatory approval, though he said it should not replace efforts to get vaccinated on the front end.
“It is never OK to get infected,” he said, noting a 50% decrease in risk is not as good as efficacy ratings against severe disease from vaccines.
He also encouraged parents to get children ages 5 to 11 vaccinated once the Food and Drug Administration approves the shots for that age group, even though some parents don’t see COVID-19 as much of a risk for children.
Dr. Fauci said it is true that children tend to see much better outcomes, though risks to them remain and their vaccination can be helpful in another way.
“Namely so there is not the spread of infection, even to your own household,” he said.