The US is in an “unnecessary predicament” of soaring COVID-19 cases fuelled by unvaccinated Americans and the virulent Delta variant, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert says.
“We’re going in the wrong direction,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, describing himself as “very frustrated”.
He said recommending that the vaccinated wear masks was “under active consideration” by the government’s leading public health officials.
Booster shots might also be suggested for people with suppressed immune systems who had been vaccinated, Dr Fauci said on Sunday (US time).
Dr Fauci, who is also President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told CNN’s State of the Union that he had taken part in conversations about altering the mask guidelines.
He noted that some local jurisdictions where infection rates were surging, such as Los Angeles County, were already asking individuals to wear masks in indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status.
Dr Fauci said those local rules were compatible with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that the vaccinated did not need to wear masks in public.
More than 163 million people, or 49 per cent of the total US population, are fully vaccinated against the virus, according to CDC data. Of those eligible for the vaccine, aged 12 and over, the figure rises to 57 per cent.
“This is an issue predominantly among the unvaccinated, which is the reason why we’re out there, practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out and get vaccinated,” Dr Fauci said.
Dr Fauci said government experts were reviewing early data as they considered whether to recommend that vaccinated individuals get booster shots.
He suggested some of the most vulnerable, such as organ transplant and cancer patients, were “likely” to be recommended for booster shots.
He also praised Republicans, including governors Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Ron DeSantis of Florida, and the second-ranking House leader, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, for encouraging their constituents to get vaccinated.
Their states have among the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
“What I would really like to see is more and more of the leaders in those areas that are not vaccinating to get out and speak out and encourage people to get vaccinated,” Dr Fauci said.