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Fauci links Arkansas' virus surge with low vaccination rate

by Frank E. Lockwood | July 16, 2021 at 7:17 a.m.
“These types of things are entirely predictable,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday in a video interview, speaking of Arkansas’ rising covid-19 infections.

WASHINGTON -- A disproportionate number of Arkansans are sick with covid-19 because a disproportionate number of Arkansans have declined to get vaccinated, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday.

"These types of things are entirely predictable," said Fauci, the president's chief medical adviser and the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Fauci took questions from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, some of which were submitted to the newspaper by readers, Thursday morning via videoconference.

"If you look at regions -- be they states, cities [or] counties -- that have a low level of vaccination, that's where we're seeing the increases in cases, which are leading to increases in hospitalizations and, unfortunately, will lead, in some cases, to an increase in deaths," he said.

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"So it is not surprising when you have a higher level of community spread and a low level of vaccination that you are going to see the increase in cases that you're experiencing now in Arkansas," he said.

Only 35% of Arkansans are fully vaccinated. Nationally, the rate is 48%.

Over the past week, Arkansas has had the highest number of covid-19 infections per 100,000 residents of any state in the nation.

On Thursday, the state Department of Health reported 980 additional cases.

It's vital for more Natural State residents to get the shots, Fauci said during Thursday's interview.

"We know these vaccines work extremely well. They are highly effective in preventing infection and even more effective in preventing severe disease. So the solution to the problem, the solution to the challenge, is crystal clear. Get as many people vaccinated as you possibly can and you will see, as in other regions of the country, that the infection rate will not only plateau, it will drop dramatically," he said.

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Despite Arkansas' elevated infection rates, Arkansans who have gotten the shots are well-situated, Fauci said.

"You should feel that you have a high degree of protection if you are fully vaccinated. It would be, obviously, much better if the entire state of Arkansas had a high percentage of vaccines. But vaccinated people should feel, appropriately, that they are highly protected against getting infected and, certainly, against getting severe, advanced disease," he said.

On Dec. 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the way for Americans to receive covid-19 vaccinations, granting emergency use authorization for those 16 years of age and older.

In May, the FDA cleared the way for young people ages 12-15 to also be vaccinated.

Fauci is hopeful that the age restrictions will be rolled back even further later this year.

"[We] are in the process right now, even as we speak, of testing what's called an age-deescalation study, looking at the safety and the immunogenicity of the [Emergency Use Authorization]-approved vaccines in people from 12 years old to 9; then from 9 down to 6 years old; then from 6 down to 2 years old; and then, ultimately, from 6 months to 2 years old."

"We are projecting that we'll have enough data by the end of the fall [or] early winter as to whether or not these vaccines" are appropriate, Fauci said.

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"We totally anticipate they will be [determined to be] safe and projected to be effective in children of all ages," he said. "Whether or not that ultimately gets approved is going to be a regulatory decision left up to the FDA."

Some of those declining to be vaccinated emphasize that the vaccines have only received emergency-use authorization, but that categorization is temporary, Fauci noted.

"The FDA has to dot all the 'i's and cross all the 't's in the process of full approval," he said. "The volume of positive data showing the effectiveness in the real-world setting of the vaccines, together with their safety, make it a situation that it is inevitable that these will be approved, fully, by the FDA. And it's really a matter of a technicality."

"So we should consider the EUAs as good as full approval because of the volume of very positive data that we have on these vaccines," he said.

Citing increases in covid-19 infections, the Chicago Department of Public Health placed Arkansas and Missouri this week on its travel advisory list.

Unvaccinated visitors from either state are supposed to be tested for covid-19 before entry or to quarantine for 10 days after arrival.

Asked whether the policy makes sense, Fauci said, "I'm not going to comment on the advisability of those types of restrictions. I will leave that to the local authority. But that's not unprecedented when you have situations where there are infections that are at a high rate in one location that people have restrictions from going into other locations."

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