The nation’s top infectious disease doctor is urging Americans to stay the course through the holidays because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
“I always say, help is on the way. And the reason I think that's important to stress to the American public is that we need to hang in there a bit longer,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told VICE News in a wide-ranging video interview in Washington on Thursday.
That help comes in the form of the Pfizer vaccine, which has a 90% efficacy rate in preventing coronavirus, according to trials performed by the pharma giant. It’s no panacea, says Fauci, but it will help a lot.
Fauci, who sits on the White House coronavirus task force, hopes things can get back to “normal” by the end of 2021, though he says we might want to keep up the habit of mask-wearing even after coronavirus.
Here’s the full interview, lightly edited for clarity:
VICE News: The U.S. has recently hit 10 million coronavirus cases. We're seeing them surge in certain parts of the country. How much worse is this going to get in the next few weeks? How concerned should Americans be?
Dr. Fauci: Well, I'm actually quite concerned. This is a difficult place that we're in right now. We are in the middle of the fall season with cool weather, and as the weather gets even colder, as we get into the holiday season, where you would expect people to travel and families to congregate indoors for understandable traditional dinners and social gatherings, that could make things much worse.
So for that reason, we really need to double down on the fundamental public health measures that we know can mitigate against this. And you know them, they're very simple: wearing masks, avoiding crowded and congregate settings, physical distancing, …to the extent possible, doing things outdoors preferentially over indoors, and washing of hands.
The important issue finally is that vaccines are here. They are literally here. And I always say help is on the way. And the reason I think that's important to stress to the American public is that we need to hang in there a bit longer. We can't say ‘There's no end to this, so why do anything? It's going to be indefinite.’ It's not. Vaccines will be available to being distributed in December. And as we get into January, February, March, April, May, more and more people, including the general population after several months, will be able to be vaccinated.
VICE News: Earlier this week, Pfizer announced its vaccine had shown promising results in trials and was “more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19." Let’s talk about that vaccine. Are you convinced it will be effective?
Dr. Fauci: Yes, I am. If you look at the number of cases they had, they had 94 cases [of COVID in the 44,000-person clinical trial], and by the end of the data collecting, they will likely have many more, probably closer to 160 or more. But if you look at the distribution of the cases that were in the placebo group and the cases that were in the vaccine group, it was striking. I mean, that is a very impressive result. More than 90 percent effective is very impressive.
VICE News: You told “60 Minutes” last month that you wouldn't advocate for a national lockdown unless the situation got “really, really bad.” Are we at that moment where it's really bad? Do you think a partial lockdown is something this country might need to do?
Dr. Fauci: Well, it depends on what you mean by lockdown. You can stop a number of things that are really the vulnerable aspects of getting more and more cases,…. the kinds of things that are short of closing all the shops, closing the bars, making sure people don't congregate in settings indoors. We always have to keep the issue of lockdown on the table, but I don't think we need to go there right now. I think we can mitigate against this, short of locking down.
VICE News: When do you think we’ll return to some semblance of normalcy? For example, when will we be able to stop wearing masks?
Dr. Fauci: Well, that's interesting. I think … when we're dealing with respiratory seasons and influenza, we should consider that maybe, as many of the Asian countries, even if we and I think we will be highly successful in controlling this, we shouldn’t completely abandon the issue of masks. I don't mean that everybody's going to walk around with a mask every minute of the day, but in the middle of a respiratory outbreak, you might want to consider beyond COVID, we might want to use masks more.
[As for] when are we going to get back to normal, you know, that's going to be a gradual process.… What I'm hoping for is that when people realize how effective this vaccine is, that there will be much more enthusiasm on the part of the general public to take it. So if you take a 95 percent-effective vaccine and you couple it with the overwhelming majority of the people taking the vaccine, like if 80, 90 percent of the population, we could get back to normal in this country. That doesn't mean pulling back on all public health measures—you still have to have some element of public health measures. I think we can do that by the end of the year. I do. I think that as we get to the third and fourth quarter of this year, if we have good uptake of the vaccine, I think we can get there by the end of this year.