Fauci warns of potential rise in COVID-19 as funding dries

The US could soon see the number of Covid-19 cases rise again and vulnerable people will likely need a fourth vaccine dose, one of President Joe Biden’s top health advisers warned as the White House asks for more money to fight the pandemic.

Anthony Fauci, the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and an adviser to Biden, said British officials are already warning him of an increase there, driven by the BA.2 subvariant, easing restrictions and protecting against vaccines wane, and that the US tends to trail UK case curves by a few weeks

“We now have all three of these factors in this country,” Fauci said in an interview on Thursday. “I would predict that we will see a bit of an increase, or at least a leveling off and a leveling off in the decrease in the number of cases. And the question is how we deal with that.”

The number of cases in the US has fallen steadily since the records were set in January, easing restrictions and Biden encouraging Americans to lead more normal lives. But the administration is also calling on Congress to approve new funding to prevent another crisis, continue certain programs and buy new vaccines and treatments.

The funding is also crucial to continue clinical trials of booster shots and work on developing pan-coronavirus vaccines, Fauci said. The White House has sought $22.5 billion in funding, warning it will soon have to end programs and be unable to purchase therapeutic treatments.

Without new funding, “a lot of things will stop. It will be a really serious situation,” Fauci said. “It’s just almost unreasonable.”

‘A Transition Phase’

Fauci spoke to House Democrats at the weekly Democratic Whip meeting Thursday, invited by Whip Jim Clyburn, and outlined the government’s needs.

The US has not ordered enough injections to give all Americans a fourth dose if needed, officials said earlier this week. Fauci said the data isn’t entirely clear, but protections against hospitalization appear to wane after four or five months after a third injection and is expected to decline further.

“I would predict that sooner or later we will need a fourth,” although perhaps only for the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, at least initially, Fauci said.

Both the money crisis and Fauci’s warnings come as Biden’s Covid team at the White House prepares for a change in leadership. Response Coordinator Jeff Zients and his deputy, Natalie Quillian, will step down next month and be replaced by Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health. Fauci praised them all, but warned the drop in cases is a good sign, but isn’t sure it will last.

“It is really in a transition phase. We are clearly moving in the right direction,” Fauci said. “We have to be very careful and not declare the overall victory prematurely. I do believe that we will be able to settle in to some degree of normalcy.”

Jha also predicted in tweets on Thursday that the number of cases could rise again and that new variants could emerge. “It is very likely that we will see more infections,” he said.

The US will need to be flexible, including possibly returning to recommending the use of masks in certain environments, Fauci said.

“We’d better be careful because history has taught us that what happened in the UK usually happens to us three or four weeks later,” he said.

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