Nearly one million people in the United States have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, a figure Dr. Anthony Fauci called a "very sad and tragic landmark."
"Hopefully the enormity of that number would spur us on to do whatever we can to make sure that we don’t have as bad a time in the coming months and years that we’ve had over the past two years," said Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the president and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
During an appearance Monday on GBH's Boston Public Radio, he stressed the importance of vaccination against COVID-19 and the value of booster shots.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicates about 66% of the U.S. population, or 220 million residents, are fully vaccinated, while just 46% of people in the country have received an additional booster shot. In Massachusetts, the latest data shows 78% of commonwealth residents are fully vaccinated and 44% have gotten booster shots.
“[COVID] immunity is waning, we’ve got to get people boosted," he said.
But after two years of lockdowns, a growing portion of the country is embracing a return to pre-pandemic normalcy in some form or another. March polling from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found just 25% of respondents feel “extremely or very worried” about COVID infecting them or a family member. 43% said they are “not at all or not too worried.”
For his part, Fauci said he’s welcoming the trend toward normalcy. He highlighted that even though vaccinated people can still contract COVID-19, data show vaccines and booster shots help limit severe illness and hospitalization.
For those still feeling cautious about in-person gatherings, Fauci pointed to the need for an increased reliance on individual choice-making. That extended to his own decision last month not to attend the White House Correspondents Dinner.
“I was not implying that because I decided not to go, that that has to influence someone else’s personal decision,” he said. “If we are going to be as a society living with something that is not going to disappear, each individual needs to make their own assessment of the personal risk they’re willing to make based on a number of factors — which differ from person to person.”
Fauci also called on legislators to take action and increase funding for the country's pandemic response. The U.S. is nearing the end of its COVID-19 relief funding stockpile, which the government has used to purchase supplies including vaccines and testing equipment. Fauci said it’s imperative that Congress pass legislation to provide further relief. A bill that would have brought an additional $10 billion in COVID funding stalled last month in the Senate.
“We really do need those resources that we’re asking for … if we’re going to do the optimal that we can do to prevent things from continuing.”
“Or,” he noted, “from even getting worse.”
For many, Fauci has been the face of America's pandemic response. Some have credited him as a factor in the 18% spike last year in applications for medical school, dubbed “the Fauci effect."
“I’m very pleased to see that,” he admitted. “We do need to get bright young people involved in medicine and public health. And if anything about me and my image promotes that, I feel very good about that.”