▶ Watch Video: Dr. Anthony Fauci on breakthrough COVID cases and the NFL’s new rule

The NFL is sending a strong message about COVID-19 vaccines with its new rule regarding potential outbreaks during the season, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday. The league said COVID outbreaks among unvaccinated players could lead to forfeited games and players suffering financial losses. 

“The NFL is sending a very strong signal that it’s very important to get vaccinated,” he told “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell. “If you want to play football and you want to do it in a way that you feel unrestricted and not worry about any penalties, you just get vaccinated, because they’re saying that if unvaccinated people get infected, there are going to be consequences.” 

The NFL has tried to get players immunized but only 75% have gotten at least one dose. A memo from the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, said any team that causes a game to be canceled will be responsible for financial losses and players on both teams won’t get paid.

Fauci said he expects others will follow suit. 

“I think that gives them the impetus to do the same sort of thing. And I think you’re going to be seeing that there will be local mandates, be they from colleges and universities or places of business that there will be pressures for people to get vaccinated,” he said. 

The NFL’s announcement comes as the U.S. is seeing rising cases as vaccinations stall and there are growing concerns about the Delta variant and breakthrough infections — when people who are fully vaccinated against COVID test positive for the virus. 

Fauci said the breakthrough cases are not a signal that the vaccines are failing because they are still mostly preventing serious illness. 

“The efficacy, as is the case here, is really based on whether you prevent clinically recognizable disease,” he said. “Most of the time you’re dealing with either asymptomatic infection or mildly symptomatic. The vaccine is still very protective against severe disease, leading to hospitalization and death.” 

“If you look at the number of people among those who are hospitalized, what percentage of those are unvaccinated? It’s about 95%. Among people who die from COVID-19, what percent are unvaccinated? That’s about 99.5%, whereas the vaccinated people occupy a very small fraction of that group,” he added. 

Fauci said he doesn’t expect future shutdowns because the spikes in cases are mainly among unvaccinated people.