WASHINGTON - America’s top infectious disease expert said about 99.2% of recent COVID-19 deaths in the United States involved unvaccinated people. "It’s really sad and tragic that most all of these are avoidable and preventable," he added.
He told NBC’s "Meet the Press" it’s frustrating "where you have a formidable enemy" in the coronavirus and "yet we do have a countermeasure that’s highly, highly effective. And that’s the reason why it’s all the more sad and all the more tragic why it isn’t being completely implemented in this country."
Fauci cited the reasons for opposition to the vaccine by some Americans, whether it’s "ideological" or whether some "are just fundamentally anti-vax or anti-science."
He said the country does "have the tools to counter" the pandemic and he asked people to "put aside all of those differences and realize that the common enemy is the virus."
The United States has registered over 605,000 deaths in the pandemic, the highest national toll in the world.
Fauci noted the United States is "very fortunate" that it has "enough vaccines to vaccinate essentially everybody in the country. And there are people throughout the world who would do anything to get vaccines."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 157 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, representing 47.4% of the country’s total population.
However, vaccination rates still remain low in many parts of the South.
The rapid spread of the delta variant has many health officials concerned that any progress against the pandemic will be halted. In Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, with only about 34% of the population fully protected, cases, hospitalizations and deaths are rising.
The World Health Organization warned last week that the trifecta of easier-to-spread strains, insufficiently immunized populations and a drop in mask use and other public health measures before the virus is better contained will "delay the end of the pandemic."
"Any suffering or death from COVID-19 is tragic. With vaccines available across the country, the suffering and loss we are now seeing is nearly entirely avoidable," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday in urging more Americans to roll up their sleeves ahead of the mutant’s spread.
Amid concerns about the variant, parts of Europe have reinstated travel quarantines, several Australian cities are in outbreak-sparked lockdowns — and just as Japan readies for the Olympics, some visiting athletes are infected. The mutation is causing worry even in countries with relatively successful immunization campaigns that nonetheless haven’t reached enough people to snuff out the virus.
Fauci on Sunday also said that Americans traveling to places with a low COVID-19 vaccination rate should "go the extra mile" and wear a mask even if they are fully vaccinated.
"I think there would be a good reason to do that because as we've said so often that vaccines are not, even as good as they are and highly effective, nothing is 100%," Fauci said to NBC. "And if you put yourself in an environment in which you have a high level of viral dynamics and a very low level of vaccine you might want to go the extra step and say, ‘When I'm in that area where there's a considerable degree of viral circulation, I might want to go the extra mile, to be cautious enough to make sure that I get the extra added level of protection even though the vaccines themselves are highly effective."
The Associated Press and FOX News contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.