Mar. 22, 2021 -- The United States probably won’t reach herd immunity until children are vaccinated, Anthony Fauci, MD, said. .

"We don't really know what that magical point of herd immunity is, but we do know that if we get the overwhelming population vaccinated, we're going to be in good shape,” Fauci said Thursday during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “We ultimately would like to get and have to get children into that mix.”

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he has estimated 70-85% of the population would need to be vaccinated or immune to reach herd immunity.

Herd immunity occurs when a large part of the population becomes immune to a virus, through vaccination or infection, and the virus has nowhere to go.

On Wednesday, Fauci told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that high school students might start being vaccinated in the fall and younger children in early 2022, CNBC reported.

In the United States, the Pfizer vaccine can be given to people 16 and up and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to people 18 and up. Vaccine makers have started clinical trials on adolescents and younger children, but it will be months before results are known.

At the Senate committee hearing Thursday, Fauci said he’s worried about a possible fourth surge in the COVID-19 pandemic, despite an increase in vaccinations.

While infections are dropping overall in the nation, 15 states have recently reported an uptick in daily new cases. Health experts have said such a fourth surge might be caused by the growing number of variants, plus a relaxation of safety measures.

"I’m concerned that if we pull back in our enthusiasm for the fact that vaccines are rolling out, and things look good, if we pull back prematurely, we may trigger another surge. And that would really set us back in all the things that we’re trying to do," Fauci said.

He also noted that case numbers are spiking in several European nations.

"Europe is generally about 3 to 4 weeks ahead of us in the dynamics of their outbreak. And what they saw a little while ago was a plateauing of their [cases]. They were coming down nicely, and then they plateaued. And then, just as you might have predicted, they then, one, started to go up," he said.

Fauci had an acrimonious exchange with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, on whether people should wear a face mask if they’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from the coronavirus.

"You're telling everybody to wear a mask, whether they've had an infection or a vaccine," said Paul, who says he’s had the coronavirus and yet refuses to wear a mask. "If people that have had the vaccine or have had the infection ... if we're not spreading the infection, isn't it just theater?"

"Here we go again with the theater. Let's get down to the facts," Fauci replied. "Let me just state for the record that masks are not theater. Masks are protective."

Fauci said vaccinated people can spread the virus to other people and can even become re-infected.

"And you don't keep in the concept of variants. That's an entirely different ballgame," Fauci said. "That's a good reason for a mask."

Paul, an ophthalmologist, pushed back, saying people resent having to wear masks.

"You've been vaccinated and you parade around in two masks for show," he said. "You want people to get the vaccine, give them a reward instead of telling them that the nanny state is going to be there for 3 more years and you got to wear a mask forever. People don't want to hear it."

"I totally disagree with you," Fauci responded.

The CDC says vaccinated people should keep wearing masks around people who are not vaccinated.

WebMD Health News Brief

Sources

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee: “Examining Our COVID-19 Response: An Update from Federal Officials.”

CNBC: “U.S. could start vaccinating young kids in early 2022, Dr. Fauci says”

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