Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top expert on infectious diseases, spoke to Harvard's School of Public Health amid the record-breaking spread of COVID-19 and impending announcements on vaccines.
Fauci's comments come amid the deadliest stretch of the pandemic to date.
Dr. Fauci began by addressing concerns stemming from allergic reactions experienced by some who received the COVID-19 vaccine in the UK, explaining that some may experience certain effects that did not arise during the vaccine's trial phase. He advises those with allergic tendencies to be prepared for a possible reaction.
When asked about what the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine really means, Fauci says it's "how it prevents you from getting sick enough to require medical care,” adding that the virus can still be transferred to other individuals after the vaccine is administered.
He went on to stress that receiving the vaccine will not preclude the need to wear masks and social distance, as both measures are still a necessity to prevent the spread of the virus.
“It’s going to take quite a while” before the virus is no longer a threat if vaccination rates range between 40% and 50%, says Fauci, adding that if 80% of the population is vaccinated, normalcy may return by the end of 2021.
Fauci was then asked what it would take to convince those who may refuse the vaccine when it is made available. He responded by saying “convincing political leaders” may be the key to reaching them.
Despite this, he expressed doubts that some people can be convinced. “It is frustrating that not matter how often you say it, there are people who just don’t believe it,” says Fauci. “I’m not so sure we’re going to reach those people.”
When asked about the increased effects of the coronavirus in communities of color, Dr. Fauci says decades-old systemic issues need to be addressed, as reduced access to healthcare paired with underlying health conditions contribute to increased risk and death from COVID-19 in African American communities.
On the vaccine's overall safety, Fauci said, "When a vaccine is deemed to be safe and effective by the FDA, the public needs to appreciate that process."
“If the United States Food and Drug Administration says that a vaccine is safe and effective," Fauci added, "I can promise you that I will take that vaccine myself.”
An average of 2,600 Americans are dying of the virus every day to go with an average of more than 200,000 new infections. The surge in the spread of the virus comes as many hospitals are full — a record 104,000 people in the U.S. are battling the virus in a hospital.
Despite those grim numbers, Fauci said earlier this week that he expects things to get worse. He told CBS News on Monday that the U.S. still has not seen the expected spread of the virus that was facilitated by travel and indoor gatherings during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Fauci's comments also come as the FDA weighs Emergency Use Authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine candidate made by Pfizer. Officials at the agency are expected to meet Thursday to discuss granting authorization, meaning Americans could receive initial doses as soon as next week.
The event also comes a day after president-elect Joe Biden formally introduced Fauci as a top medical adviser in his administration. Biden also said he worked with Fauci to establish three goals to fight COVID-19 in his first 100 days in office: Institute mask mandates where possible, give out 100 million doses of vaccine and get as many kids back to in-person learning as possible.