Transcript: Dr. Deborah Birx on “Face the Nation,” May 1, 2022Deborah L. Birx, MD
MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s been more than a year since we last spoke with Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator during the Trump administration, and she told us about her time in the administration, spoke candidly about mistakes that had been made, especially with the CDC. And many of those details are recounted in her new book, “Silent Invasion.”
Dr. Brix is here with us in studio.
Good morning to you, Doctor.
AMB. DEBORAH BIRX, M.D., FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR AND AUTHOR, “SILENT INVASION”: Good morning, Margaret. Happy to be here.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m glad to see you again.
I want to talk about the book, but we did see you last night at the Correspondents Dinner. We were both there as guests of CBS.
These indoor gatherings are happening across the country now. Dr. Fauci said it was too dangerous for him to attend. How do you judge risk?
DEBORAH BIRX: I have to judge it every day because, like you, I have children under five, unvaccinated grandchildren, and I have a 93-year-old that lives in our house. So I have to constantly be aware of my risk, yet I have to work.
So, I completely masked last night because my assessment was there were probably, just by odds and science, probably 15 to 20 people infected, even though everyone was tested in the morning or within 24 hours. And so I just always know and then I keep testing. So I’ll test every day for five days after an exposure. And I consider that an exposure. I tested this morning because I knew I was going to see you in person, unmasked.
And I think that’s just what we need to do. If you have vulnerable people in your household, whether it’s children or elderly, you have to continually assess your risk.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It — thank you for the guidance on that. And, as you said, I’m aware of it because of my kids.
We’re now at close to a million deaths. Infection rates are going up. Hospitalizations are going up. I think it was just about 18 percent on the week. Do you think we are done with these massive waves of infection?
DEBORAH BIRX: I like to look at the whole spectrum of the last two years. And so if you look at what we’ve been through, we went through a mini alpha variant surge in the same locations last year at this time. Then we went into that lull of May, where everybody thought it was over, and in middle of June, and then we had the predictable surge across the south.
And what you need to be looking at is global data. So I follow South Africa very closely. They’re good about testing. They’re good about sequencing and find their variants. They’re on an up slope again. Each of these surges are about four to six months apart. That tells me that natural immunity wanes enough in the general population after four to six months that a significant surge is going to occur again.
And this is what we have to be prepared for in this country. We should be preparing right now for a potential surge in the summer across the southern United States because we saw it in 2020 and we saw it in 2021.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Wow, that’s not general consensus right now. That’s a warning. You think that’s what’s coming for the south? Is it this new variant?
DEBORAH BIRX: Well, each of these surges have been a slightly different variant because, yes, our immune system wanes. Now, who is carrying the virus that participates in these surges? We are. Vaccinated individuals, as well as unvaccinated individuals. And we have to make it very clear to the American people that your protection against infection wanes. So, if you’re going to go see your grandmother or someone that has metastatic breast cancer, or someone under treatment for Hodgkin’s Disease or a family member with down syndrome, you need to test before you go. If that area is in a surge, and if you assessed your risk, like we did last night, and make sure that you’re negative.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And so what you’re seeing in South Africa, you do think is a lead indicator of what may be coming here?
DEBORAH BIRX: Correct. What has happened each time is we’ve had a summer surge across the south and a winter surge that cross — that starts in our northern plains and moves down, accelerated by Thanksgiving and the holidays of Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. And that’s predictable.
So now we have to figure out — we have tools, better tools that we had a year ago. So, we have the tools now to enable every American to not only survive, but thrive. But that means every American has to have access to these tools. And our rural counties, those red counties that people keep talking about, they have lack of adequate health care.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
DEBORAH BIRX: Lack of primary physicians. Lack of individuals to counsel them about vaccines.
I went to Elko (ph), Nevada. They are three hours from a hospital that could take care of Covid. So, we have to be attentive to all Americans no matter where they live.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You, in your book, talk about some of these institutional issues. You’re talking about at the state level, but also at the CDC, and Health and Human Services as well.
In your book you say there is no plan b then. And to this day there is still no plan b. There is no early warning system in this country.
Why hasn’t this administration been able to fix it? Because you’re not the only person who’s said this.
DEBORAH BIRX: You know, I’m thrilled that over the last 12 months people have been giving more and more voice to it. To be frank, that’s why I wrote the book because I felt like people weren’t understanding what the issues were on the ground that were resulting in Americans not surviving.
Every American needs to be able to click on a website that shows them what is happening in their community with test positivity cases. And hospitalizations are great.
MARGARET BRENNAN: How do tests throw that off?
Sorry, I don’t mean to get — continue your thought.
DEBORAH BIRX: Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Hospitalizations, that’s what the CDC says focus on. You’re saying, don’t focus on it.
DEBORAH BIRX: Well, if you wait until hospitalizations, there is so much community spread that you cannot prevent it from getting into the nursing homes, into venerable family members, because we interact with each other. And so people are interpreting that the fact that they are vaccinated, or vaccinated and boosted, that they cannot be infected, that they’re somehow invincible and they’re carrying that virus into hospital rooms, into nursing homes, and into dining room tables where their vulnerable family members sit.
And let’s be clear, not every vulnerable family member has an effective immune response either to the vaccine or the booster. And so we need to know if they’re protected or not. And so we have to be able to utilize those antibody levels in some way.
I can tell you today, if your grandmother has no antibody, don’t pretend — don’t think that there are cellular or there are other side of their immune system is going to protect them. They’re going to need something else. We have those tools now. We have depo (ph), monoclonal antibody Evusheld. There are — there are tools that we can use.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Doctor, thank you for your insights. We have to leave it there.