Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease specialist, said “ideological rigidity” is preventing people from getting COVID-19 shots and voiced frustration at the struggle to boost vaccination rates in parts of the country.
“It’s not an easy solution,” Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “We’ve got to get away from this divisiveness that has really been a problem right from the very beginning with this outbreak.”
With vaccination rates lagging mostly in Southern and Midwestern states, Fauci made the rounds of U.S. morning talk shows to reinforce the Biden administration’s message that COVID shots are safe and offer strong protection against the delta variant that’s now dominant in the U.S.
Images of an audience cheering vaccine opposition at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas are “horrifying,” Fauci said. Former President Donald Trump was scheduled to address the meeting on Sunday.
“It’s almost frightening to say, ‘Hey, guess what, we don’t want you to do something to save your life,'” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
President Joe Biden’s administration is seeking to promote trusted local figures, such as clergy, to get out the vaccine message and has said it’s sending “surge response teams” from federal agencies to help states fight the spread of the more-contagious delta strain.
The teams have become a partisan flashpoint, with some Republicans portraying them as government overreach after Biden last week called for “door-to-door” neighborhood efforts to persuade people to get vaccinated.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican whose state has one of the lowest vaccination rates among U.S. states, said community groups, including churches, have already been trying to bring vaccines to residents.
“No one wants an agent knocking on a door,” he said on ABC. “But we do want those that do not have access otherwise to make sure they know about it and having the information. If it means going into a community door by door and letting them know of this, then that’s OK.”
“You overcome resistance and obstinance with saying it’s important for our community, and it’s important for the health of our state and nation,” he said.
Fauci said “I really don’t have a good explanation” for why some people decline vaccines. “It’s ideological rigidity, I think,” he said on CNN.
More than two thirds of adults in the U.S., or 67.5%, have gotten at least one COVID vaccine dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet daily vaccinations have slumped in recent weeks and Biden missed his target of getting at least one dose to 70% of adults by July 4.
“We have more vaccines in this country than we know what to do with,” Fauci said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “It’s a very frustrating situation.”
While it’s “entirely conceivable, maybe likely” that COVID booster shots will eventually be needed, particularly for people with underlying conditions, initial data from an early human study by Pfizer Inc. released last week isn’t enough to trigger an official recommendation yet, Fauci said.
“It really is a question of a firm recommendation versus an opinion,” he said. At the same time, institutions such as the National Institutes of Health are conducting studies on boosters.
“Right now, we are preparing full throttle for doing booster if we need them,” Fauci said.