WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation's leading public health advisers, said Sunday that the U.S. should still proceed with its plan to give people both doses of the currently available Covid-19 vaccines, even as some top health care officials have suggested that the priority should be giving first doses to as many people as possible.
There’s disagreement among some experts about how to proceed amid supply shortages and new variants that could become more resistant to current vaccines or an increase in infections. Dr. Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist who advised the President Joe Biden's transition team on the pandemic, said on last week’s “Meet the Press” that he believed prioritizing more first doses would set the country on a better path forward ahead of a possible new surge he compared to a “hurricane.”
But Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told "Meet the Press" Sunday he doesn’t believe the science is clear yet on the issue, and that studying whether that path forward could be better would take too much time.
“What we have right now, and what we must go with, is the scientific data that we’ve accumulated. And it’s really solid,” Fauci said.
“You can do both, you can get as many people in their first dose at the same time as adhering, within reason, to the timetable of the second dose. It would be great to have the study, but I don’t think we could do it in time.”
There’s been a decline in daily coronavirus cases and new deaths, according to an NBC News analysis, in recent days, after a post-holiday peak. It’s been almost three weeks since the daily new caseload hit 200,000. But while new daily deaths have decreased on the whole, that decline has been slower than the decline in cases.
America’s vaccination rate has been steadily increasing since vaccines were first approved in December. While the pace is picking up, vaccine distribution and administration has suffered from its share of setbacks, and Fauci admitted there’s still far more demand than supply.
Fauci said that he expects the pace of vaccinations to continue to rise thanks to an increase in the supply for the vaccines currently available, as well as new vaccines like one from Johnson & Johnson, which is petitioning the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization.
“If you look at the escalation of the availability of doses purely on the ability and capability of manufacturing that, it’s going to escalate and will continue to escalate as we go from February to March to April and beyond. Even though there’s a clear, clear discrepancy between the demand and supply, that will get better,” he said.
While Fauci said some steps could have been taken earlier to lessen the issues, he admitted it was “a bit inevitable” either way.
“With all due respect and fairness, it’s a bit inevitable. We certainly, I guess, could have contracted a bit more aggressively with the companies to get more doses, but right now, this is what we have. These are the contractual arrangements, they're coming off the line as quickly as we can,” he said.
“Things will continue to get better.”