The United States is in an “unnecessary predicament” of soaring Covid-19 cases fuelled by unvaccinated Americans and the Delta variant, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert said.
Dr Anthony Fauci said: “We’re going in the wrong direction”, and described himself as “very frustrated” over the situation.
He said recommending that the vaccinated wear masks is “under active consideration” by the government’s leading public health officials.
Booster jabs may also be suggested for people with suppressed immune systems who have been vaccinated, Dr Fauci said.
The senior medic, who also serves as US president Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told CNN’s State of the Union that he has taken part in conversations about altering guidelines on masks.
He noted that some local jurisdictions where infection rates are surging, such as Los Angeles County, are already calling on individuals to wear masks in indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status.
Dr Fauci said those local rules are compatible with the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that the vaccinated do not need to wear masks in public.
More than 163 million people, or 49% of the total US population, are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.
Of those eligible for the vaccine, aged 12 and over, the figure rises to 57%.
“This is an issue predominantly among the unvaccinated, which is the reason why we’re out there, practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out and get vaccinated,” Dr Fauci said.
He said government experts are reviewing early data as they consider whether to recommend that vaccinated individuals should get booster jabs.
Dr Fauci suggested that some of the most vulnerable, such as organ transplant and cancer patients, are “likely” to be recommended for booster shots.
He also praised Republicans, including governors Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Ron DeSantis of Florida, and the second-ranking US House leader, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, for encouraging their constituents to get vaccinated.
Their states have among the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
“What I would really like to see is more and more of the leaders in those areas that are not vaccinating to get out and speak out and encourage people to get vaccinated,” Dr Fauci said.