Fauci: You may be done with the 'rona but the 'rona isn't done with you

As a general rule, I’d advise him not to say stuff that makes him sound like a spokesman for COVID.

Even if he kind of is one.

Who is this comment addressed to, by the way? Which unvaccinated person who’s managed to ignore him for 18 months is watching this — on MSNBC — and thinking, “I was going to go to a football game next weekend but now I guess I won’t”?

Joy Reid is so hyper-cautious about COVID that she was vowing to avoid flying and doing indoor activities with others after being fully vaccinated back before Delta was on America’s radar, when those who’d had their shots here were all but completely immune from the disease. By the standards of her network, Fauci counts as adventurous when it comes to COVID.

For what it’s worth, most fans in the stands at NFL games agree with him. They want other people at the game to be vaccinated, at a much higher rate than the general public does, in fact:

That divergence could be a function of self-interest. If you’re unlikely to go to a game, what do you care if fans there are immunized? It should only matter to you if you’re at personal risk of being exposed, as game-attending fans are. But there may be a class component too. NFL tickets aren’t cheap and the sort who can afford them tend to be more risk-averse when it comes to COVID. Maybe all we’re seeing in this poll is a clue about which segment of society is most likely to have disposable cash to get seats on Sunday.

Lots of media attention is paid to Americans who are willing to take risks despite the threat from COVID, like students packed into college stadiums last weekend. Less is paid to the people on the other end of the spectrum, the Joy Reid types who are as protected as science can make them and yet still refuse to take even small risks. Dan McLaughlin wrote yesterday about a college professor who got his shots and came to class masked on the first day only to find that two-thirds of his students weren’t wearing masks themselves. A “hellscape,” he called it, despite his extremely low risk of severe illness. “All across the country, people who have been vaccinated face a risk of serious illness from COVID that is far less than dozens of other risks they used to face in daily life — and yet, they insist on masking, social distancing, foregoing activities they used to engage in, and in some cases continuing precautions like obsessive hand sanitizing and the maintenance of plastic barriers that we know now are simply theater,” McLaughlin noted. “What will it take to convince these people to return to normal living?”

Maybe a booster? But that just reframes the question: Why are so many vaccinated people holding out for boosters?

“Whether it’s the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you consistently have excellent protection against severe illness,” Offit said. “That hasn’t changed. If that hasn’t changed, then why the need for the third dose?” Indeed, the focus on booster shots may be undermining confidence in the very vaccines the White House is promoting. Offit said he’s heard from people who now worry that if they don’t quickly get a booster shot, they’ll lose their immunity. “We’ve scared people into thinking they’re no longer protected,” he said.

If you consider the unvaccinated adult population to be Trump’s base, the vaccinated population would be Biden’s, a reality that some experts believe isn’t lost on the White House. “They’re caving to anxious Americans who want as many doses of the vaccine as possible because they’re fearful of what breakthrough infections could mean,” Céline Gounder, an infectious-disease specialist and epidemiologist who was a member of Biden’s transition-team COVID-19 advisory board, told me. “And if you look at who votes and who their constituency is, that’s their constituency.”

An annoyed Nate Silver replied to that passage on Twitter this morning. Maybe people are anxious about breakthrough infections because so many scientists seem anxious about them:

Just two of the 27 experts surveyed in the graph tweeted by Silver would attend an outdoor sporting event unmasked despite being vaccinated. And 12 of 27 wouldn’t attend even with a mask. Why?

Is it because people who study disease for a living are naturally risk-averse from having to routinely consider worst-case scenarios for their job? Or is it because Delta is sufficiently new and formidable that they wouldn’t want to risk infection even with the almost total assurance that their case won’t be bad enough to send them to the hospital? Some “mild” breakthrough infections are not so mild in practice, after all, and it’s unclear how often they turn into “long COVID.” The only way to further hedge that risk, it seems, is to get boosted — or to avoid all unnecessary social interactions. At least Fauci’s in the booster camp.

Exit question: Will he be a little more chill about big crowds at football games once boosters have been administered? Probably not, right?