Asked by MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell about the spread of the Delta variant of the virus and what that means for unvaccinated minors, Fauci said they and their parents should follow federal health advice. In its guidelines for safely opening K-12 schools in the fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says "masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated."
"Unvaccinated children of a certain age greater than two years old should be wearing masks," Fauci said. "No doubt about that. That's the way to protect them from getting infected, because if they do, they can then spread the infection to someone else."
Fauci has routinely advocated for strict health measures throughout the pandemic, but critics have been particularly frustrated with his calls to mask up children, who are statistically at a far smaller risk from getting or growing seriously ill from COVID-19. CDC data shows of the nearly 600,000 deaths attributed to coronavirus since 2020, only 331, or about 1 in 2,000, occurred among those ages 0-17.
In addition to the lower risk children face of getting or spreading the virus, some studies have shown mask-wearing for youngsters can even be harmful for their health, with parents claiming their kids are suffering headaches, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.
"We're going to make low-risk children suffer to protect unvaccinated adults? C'mon. We have to begin caring about the kids," strategist Rory Cooper tweeted.
"I can't believe it's July 2021 and this man is still spouting nonsense on our televisions without any serious follow-up questions. What an embarrassment," New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz tweeted.
Fauci said the government and pharmaceutical companies are studying the safety of vaccines in children under 12, saying that data would likely be available by the end of 2021. The CDC currently recommends COVID vaccines for those 12 and older.
The coronavirus vaccines have proven highly effective in driving down cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and the Biden administration has launched an all-out effort to get more Americans the shot. They have drawn criticism in some corners for being too heavy-handed, however, such as their plan to go "door-to-door" and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra's remark that it's "absolutely the government's business" to know who isn't vaccinated.