Fauci says COVID-19 vaccine boosters will help avoid winter ‘double whammy’

The country’s top infectious disease expert believes COVID-19 vaccine boosters will be needed to avoid a possible "double whammy" of the highly transmissible coronavirus delta variant and waning immunity this winter — possibly putting even vaccinated people at risk.

"The somewhat unnerving aspect of it is that if you keep the level of dynamics of the virus in the community at a high level — obviously the people who are most, most vulnerable are the unvaccinated — but when you have a virus as transmissible as delta, in the context of waning immunity, that dynamic is going to negatively impact even the vaccinated people. So it's a double whammy," Fauci said in a pretaped interview aired at the 2021 STAT Summit Tuesday.

"You're going to see breakthrough infections, even more so than we see now among the vaccinated," he added.

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His comments came as COVID-19 cases are rising across the country after a downward trend over the summer months. 

Fauci even suggested that a third COVID-19 vaccine shot may no longer be a "luxury," but part of the required vaccination process. 

"I happen to believe... that a third shot boost for an mRNA is likely should be part of the actual standard regimen," he said.

The seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in the United States has jumped more than 26% over the last three weeks, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Oct. 24, the CDC reported the country’s seven-day average of cases at 63,800. Three weeks later, on Nov. 14, the CDC was reporting the seven-day average had jumped to 80,800 — an increase of 26.5%. 

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Pfizer has asked U.S. regulators to allow boosters of its COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 18 or older, a step that comes amid concern about the increased spread of the coronavirus with holiday travel and gatherings.

Older Americans and other groups particularly vulnerable to the virus have had access to a third dose of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine since September. But the Food and Drug Administration has said it would move quickly to expand boosters to younger ages if warranted.

Pfizer’s new study concluded a booster could restore protection against symptomatic infection to about 95%, even as the extra-contagious delta variant was surging. Side effects were similar to those seen with the company’s first two shots.

Some cities and states are not waiting for federal approval and have already expanded access to COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to all adults.

RELATED: Multiple states open COVID-19 booster shots to all adults

Arkansas, California, Colorado, New Mexico and New York City announced the expansion in anticipation of a surge of COVID-19 cases heading into the holiday season when more people are staying indoors and traveling.

The contagious delta variant is driving up COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Mountain West and fueling disruptive outbreaks in the north, a worrisome sign of what could be ahead this winter in the U.S.

Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are at their highest peak since last December, according to state data, and the health department said 30% of the state’s facilities are anticipating ICU bed shortages within the next week. As of last Wednesday, Colorado had nearly 1,280 hospitalizations, with 80% made up of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, according to the health department’s data dashboard.

According to the CDC, more than 227 million Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, representing 68.6% of the total population. Earlier this month, U.S. health officials gave clearance for children between 5 and 11 years old to get the COVID-19 vaccine. About 900,000 children received their first dose within the first week of eligibility.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.