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Former White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said Wednesday that although more than half of Americans have been infected with the COVID-19 virus or vaccinated, the U.S. has still not met a herd immunity threshold to end the pandemic.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data on Tuesday showing that nearly 60% of Americans have coronavirus antibodies in their blood. The number of children with COVID-19 antibodies is even higher — almost 75% of children 11 and younger have antibodies, providing at least some protection from the virus.
Even so, CDC officials are still encouraging people to get vaccinated to increase protection against severe disease, and Birx echoed their concerns, adding that the U.S. is still far from herd immunity against the virus.
"The issue with herd immunity, we know natural infection and we know now vaccination doesn't lead to long-term protection against infection," Birx said on "America's Newsroom."
"So this isn't like measles, mumps, and rubella, where you get [the vaccine] and you're protected for a long time. We know now with this virus that natural infection and the immunity that you develop does not lead to durable long-term protection."
"The only time you could talk about herd immunity is when you know that you have durable protection," she added.
Her comments come just a day after White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said that the U.S. is "out of the pandemic phase," but that the U.S. will never "eradicate this virus."
Fauci told PBS NewsHour that people may need to get vaccine boosters yearly and for "longer" than they expect in order to keep virus infections low.
"That might be every year, that might be longer, in order to keep that level low. But, right now, we are not in the pandemic phase in this country," said.
Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer suggested that the messaging from public health officials on the vaccines has been "confusing." He asked Birx if the government's messaging about the vaccines failed, noting that breakthrough infections among those who are fully vaccinated and even boosted against COVID-19 have caused people to question the efficacy of the vaccines.
Birx, who is on a media tour this week to promote her new tell-all book about her time with the Trump administration, answered that the government has failed to be fully transparent with the American people, which she says has led to distrust in public health officials and misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccines.
"In everybody's head was, 'this is like measles, mumps, and rubella,' because that's what we know. So they thought that they were superhuman and invincible once they were vaccinated," but that wasn't the case, Birx said.
"I made it very clear to the president and vice president that this vaccine was never studied to create what we call sterilizing immunity, the invincibility to never be infected again," she said. "And I think the White House understood that, and frankly we made it very clear it was never studied to do anything but protect against severe disease and hospitalization, which it's done a pretty good job about."
The record is not as clear as Birx suggests. It is true that in late 2020, before the COVID-19 vaccines were released widely, both Fauci and BIrx warned that scientists were unsure that the vaccines would prevent infection, even though they appeared to be effective against severe disease.
But at times, Fauci favorably compared the COVID-19 vaccines to other vaccinations such as the polio vaccine, which eradicated that disease. And once the vaccine rollout ramped up in February and March 2021, he touted studies that suggested vaccination slowed the spread of infections, before backtracking months later once the Delta surge demonstrated that fully vaccinated people could still have breakthrough infections.
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