WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that this weekend's emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine gives the country three "highly efficacious vaccines" that provide significant protection from Covid-19, and he urged Americans to take whichever one is available to them when they become eligible.
In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he would take any of the three approved vaccines — from Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson — because all provide strong protection from severe disease related to the coronavirus. Fauci was vaccinated late last year in an early push to inspire confidence in the vaccine rollout.
"All three of them are really quite good, and people should take the one that's most available to them," he said.
"If you go to a place and you have J&J and that's the one that's available now, I would take it. I personally would do the same thing. I think people need to get vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible," he said.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on an emergency basis Saturday, a day after its advisory panel recommended it.
The new vaccine differs from the two other previously approved ones because it is a single shot and doesn't require a second dose weeks later. Documents released by the FDA found the shot to be 86 percent effective at preventing serious disease overall — 72 percent effective in the U.S. and 64 percent in South Africa, where a new strain of the virus has become prominent.
While the efficacy rates are lower than those of the Moderna and Pfizer shots, Fauci said on "Meet the Press" that Americans shouldn't try to compare their efficacy numbers side by side because each shot was examined in different trials in different circumstances. For example, public health officials have been more concerned in recent weeks about the rise in variants that could evade vaccines.
"It's not the weaker vaccine. They are all three really good vaccines," Fauci said.
There have been more than 28.6 million coronavirus infections in the U.S., and more than 514,000 deaths have been attributed to the virus, according to an NBC News analysis. The numbers of new daily cases have plummeted in recent weeks — the seven-day average is at around 70,000, the lowest since October. And the country's vaccination rate has been improving, too; more than 68 million doses have been administered, according to NBC News.
Even so, deaths are dropping more slowly than new cases. And Fauci warned government officials that the decline in cases shouldn't prompt a loosening of restrictions just yet because too much virus is still circulating in the country and he's concerned that backing off could lead to yet another spike.
"We've been in this situation before," he said. "When you start to see a decline in number of cases, if you prematurely lift the restrictions, we have a few examples of the rebound back. Our baseline of daily infections now, even though it's way down from where it was, 300,000-plus per day, is down to around 70,000. That baseline's too high.
"Let's keep our feet on the accelerator right now, because we are going in the right direction," he said.