'Get vaccinated, wear a mask': Dr. Fauci answers your back-to-school questions

Students across Florida are returning to school as COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations increase beyond last year’s levels, generating controversy and anger over the best ways to mitigate the virus while educating kids.

FOX 13’s Craig Patrick asked NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci to address the questions and concerns many of you have shared with us over the last several days.  

Here is the full Q&A, which includes links Dr. Fauci referenced in his responses. 

Question: Our public schools require students to get vaccines to protect against measles, mumps, polio (and others). What's the difference with requiring COVID vaccines once they get full FDA approval and the kids under 12 become eligible for it? 

Dr. Fauci: You know, that very well may be the case. And I think the reason, one of the most important reasons you don't have a requirement, is because even though we know the vaccines are highly effective and safe, they are not yet fully approved with the FDA, even though it's under emergency use authorization. 

We feel pretty confident that they are highly effective and safe, but you have to be very careful about mandating in the schools for the children until you get that full approval. But I believe it will be very actively considered. I can't give a prediction of what's going to happen, but I think it will be actively considered, and that this might come under the category of the other infections that you mentioned, the polio, the measles, mumps, rubella. Can't say that that will happen, but certainly it's going to be discussed. 

Question: For parents who want to keep their kids enrolled in their schools, the option for virtual learning is gone. Kids under 12 cannot get vaccinated. They’re in school with no social distancing. Masks are optional at most of the schools. What more can parents do (short of withdrawing their kids from school) to keep them as safe as they possibly can when they go to school under these circumstances? 

Dr. Fauci: I know it's a very complicated situation, but I believe what you can do optimally is to get the children physically in the class to avoid the deleterious consequences of having them out of physical presence (of school) with all the mental health and social development issues that we have. 

You surround the children with people who are eligible to be vaccinated and get vaccinated. That means the teachers and the personnel and the schoolchildren who are eligible to be vaccinated 12 and older, we should get them vaccinated, and encourage them to get vaccinated.

And for the unvaccinated, the way you protect them, you get the situation such that there's universal mask wearing in the schools. And I know that's difficult sometimes to implement, but that is the optimal way. People who can be vaccinated, get vaccinated. And everybody wear a mask. 

Question: With respect to masks, would you recommend parents buy KN95 masks in lieu of the standard variety white and blue we've all become accustomed to? And what else can they possibly do? 

Dr. Fauci:  You know what I think they should do? Just wear a mask. Any qualified mask. I think when you start picking this one versus that one, people get confused. I would just say wear a mask, surgical mask, cloth mask. You want to wear it then? And that's fine. 

Sometimes the ’95’ is the more difficult to tolerate for the kids. That's one of the reasons why you don't get that full recommendation. 

Question: Would you avoid chorus class where kids project and sing together, or loud lunchrooms where they naturally speak loudly in close quarters, or playgrounds where students mix together -- making contact tracing virtually impossible? 

Dr. Fauci: I don't want to go to each individual one. I would say you go to the CDC website. They have a very strong website recommendation about how to get children safely in school. And I would just follow that.

Question: A lot of parents are getting phone calls from their schools, notifying them they have multiple kids in the class testing positive, but their child had no direct close extended contact with those students who did test positive. If you were in their shoes, how would you proceed?

Dr. Fauci: You're asking me individual questions. And I want everybody to understand that the CDC has an uncomplicated guideline format. You should just look at that. Otherwise, what you're going to do is you're going to get individual people saying different things and then people get confused all the time. And that's what we want to avoid.

Question: The governor cites a Brown University study, which he interprets as supporting his belief that mask requirements do not reduce the risk of COVID in Florida public schools. Is that interpretation correct? 

Dr. Fauci: I'm not going to get into a back and forth with a tit for tat with the governor. The only thing I'm going to say is if you go to the CDC website, there are ample references to studies showing the beneficial effect of masks in preventing acquisition and transmission

Question: The delta variant skyrocketed in India then receded. It took off in Great Britain, then it seemed to have receded. Did they do something we've missed to get it on the run, or does the virus just naturally dissipate, for whatever reason, after having us on the ropes? 

Dr. Fauci: You know, we don't know exactly what's going to happen with the delta variant, but there's one thing we can predict. If we get more and more people vaccinated, that is the best way to counter any variant at all. The situation in the UK is that they have as a population [with] more people vaccinated than us. That could have contributed to it.

They had more people who were actually infected, and the combination of infected and vaccinated may have made the circumstance such that it turned around the dynamics of the outbreak. 

Question: We now have guidance on booster shots for those who got the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Where does it leave those without got the J&J one-shot vaccine with respect to when or if they should get a booster? 

Dr. Fauci: Yes, certainly it's going to look like the people who got the J&J. One-shot will need a booster. The FDA right now is looking at data from a number of studies and getting a recommendation that will almost certainly come through the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that advises the CDC to advise when and with what type of a boost the J&J people will get.

But it should be noted that they started the vaccinations for J&J a few months after the [Pfizer and Moderna] vaccines. So they still have time to get to the point to get it right about what kinds of boosters they would have and what the program of the cadence of those boosters should be. 

Question: One of the claims we're repeatedly hearing is that people who recover from COVID have long-lasting immunity without a vaccine. Is that correct?

Dr. Fauci: Well, certainly there is a degree of protection against reinfection, but we know from a number of studies that if you are infected, recover and get vaccinated, your degree of protection goes very, very high. Whereas if you are infected, recover, you get an attenuation of protection that leaves you vulnerable again to reinfection, particularly in the context of the delta variant.

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