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Dr. Fauci answers questions about children and COVID-19 vaccines

NOEL KING, HOST:

All right. We're going to say good morning now to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House's chief medical adviser. Dr. Fauci, thanks for being back with us.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Thank you for having me - good to be with you.

KING: So we - you heard Allison report there that the FDA advisory panel talked a considerable amount about myocarditis, or heart inflammation, that has been seen in rare cases, mostly in young men and teenage boys who took the vaccine. Are younger children at risk for this? What do we know?

FAUCI: Well, certainly they are at risk, but a very, very, very rare risk. I mean, the myocarditis that has been seen as a rare adverse event is, as you mentioned correctly, predominantly in young men, not generally as young as 5 to 11, but there certainly could be some overlap there. So that's something that you pay attention to. But when the FDA looks at the data and they do a risk-benefit analysis - which is, what is the risk of an individual within that age group getting COVID-19 and getting a serious outcome versus the risk of getting the adverse event from the vaccine? - they've determined very clearly that they weigh very heavily towards the benefit, as opposed to the risk.

KING: Allison mentioned the CDC kind of having surveillance on kids just to make sure - because it was a relatively small number in the trial...

FAUCI: True.

KING: ...Right? And we'll be talking about millions of kids. What does that surveillance look like? What should a parent be thinking? And again, we said it's very rare. But what should a parent be thinking if they're concerned about myocarditis? What should a doctor be looking at?

FAUCI: Well, you look at a number of things. You look at, for example, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, fever. When you talk about surveillance, I think that's a very important point to bring up because when vaccines are approved and made available, that's not the end of the story. Very often, particularly when you're dealing with a situation as sensitive as this, there is surveillance post-vaccination to make observation, to get more data, even following the actual approval. So things don't stop just because something is approved.

KING: Some of the panel members said that schools should not make the vaccine mandatory for young kids, that it should be optional. Where do you fall on that?

FAUCI: You know, I am always very much in favor of having parents make a decision and to do things voluntarily. There is a history of mandating vaccines to allow children to go in school. I know my children who went to school here in the district had to be vaccinated with measles, mumps, rubella and others. You'd like to have a voluntary decision about that. But let's just wait and see where it goes. We certainly want to get as many children vaccinated within this age group as we possibly can because as you heard and reported, that this is not, you know, a benign situation.

Certainly children have a - much less of a likelihood of a severe outcome. We know that. But they're really not completely exempt from serious outcomes because of the data that you just mentioned a little bit ago and the fact when you go to pediatric hospitals, you do see children who have serious outcomes for the infection. So we don't want to take it lightly - that's for sure.

KING: In practical terms, I guess I'm asking on behalf of the 5- to 11-year-old set, at what point could kids take their masks off in school? Would a certain percentage have to be vaccinated? Would any kid who's vaccinated be able to walk around with no mask? What does this look like in the classroom, do you think?

FAUCI: You know, it's really going to depend on what the level of dynamics of viral spread is in the community. As you know, right now even though we're doing better and the numbers are coming down, we still have a weekly average of a daily 70,000 cases per day. And when you have that type of viral dynamic, even when you have kids vaccinated, you certainly - when you are in an indoor setting, you want to make sure you go the extra step to protect them. So I can't give you an exact number of what that would be in the dynamics of virus in the community, but hopefully we will get there within a reasonable period of time. You know, masks often now - as we say, they're not forever. And hopefully we'll get to a point where we can remove the masks in schools and in other places. But I don't believe that that time is right now.

KING: OK. Many kids, Dr. Fauci, young kids - 5 to 11 - have had COVID-19. Should they get the vaccine anyway?

FAUCI: Well, you know, certainly the recommendations are - generally, for the general public - has not yet gone down yet to the children level. But as you know, we want to make sure that we get as much optimal protection as possible. And there are some very good studies in adult - albeit not in children - but in adults that if you get infected and recovered from the infection and then get vaccinated, the level of your protection is dramatically enhanced, much more so than just vaccination alone.

KING: OK. If there ends up being high demand for a vaccine for children, does the United States have an adequate supply of vaccine in children's doses and the infrastructure to deliver it? As I understand it, pharmacies and pediatricians offices need, like, different stuff than...

FAUCI: Right.

KING: ...They do for adults.

FAUCI: You know, that's a great question, and that's the reason why we have prepared for the eventuality of approval. You never want to get ahead of the FDA or the CDC and their regulatory and recommendation processes. But we've been prepared for some time now to get these doses in enough quantity to be able to accommodate anyone who wants it and getting it to places that are convenient for parents to get their children vaccinated. That's offices of pediatricians, pediatric hospitals and other areas where it will make it quite easy for them - pharmacies, et cetera. So that was what the preparation was in anticipation of a favorable decision from the FDA and the CDC. So the answer to your question is yes, there is enough doses, and they will be distributed in places for maximum convenience for the parents.

KING: OK. And then lastly, when it comes to kids, misinformation is particularly destructive because no parent wants to take a risk with their child's health. Are you seeing much misinformation around kids and the vaccine, and do you have thoughts on how to counter it?

FAUCI: Yeah. The best way to counter mis- and disinformation is to flood the system with correct information. And unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation going around. And that's the reason why we continue to be out there talking about the correct information.

KING: And so you are. Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser - thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

FAUCI: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "RAIN FALL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.