WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s foremost public health experts, said Sunday that the U.S. is “weeks away, not months away” from considering the approval of new coronavirus vaccines.
In an interview on NBC News' "Meet the Press," Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who will be staying on as President-elect Joe Biden’s chief science adviser, said he was optimistic that the vaccine candidates being made by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca can be fully evaluated soon.
"I would imagine within a period of a week or so, or at the most, a couple of weeks, they're going to be getting their data together and showing it to the FDA,” Fauci said of the two pharmaceutical companies.
“They're going to have to get their data and safety monitoring board to look at it to see if it is appropriate to start, you know, essentially putting the package together to get an emergency use authorization. But we're weeks away, not months away, for sure."
The Food and Drug Administration has already approved two vaccines, from Moderna and Pfizer, for emergency use. While both those approved vaccines, as well as the one being developed by AstraZeneca, require two shots spaced out weeks apart, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine needs only one.
There have been almost 14 million vaccinations in the U.S. so far, according to data from Bloomberg News. The pace of vaccinations continues to increase, with more than a million people vaccinated on three days last week.
But there have been concerns about the pace of the vaccine rollout, with widespread frustration about supply, state guidelines and appointment availability. Amid that backdrop, the Trump administration recommended last week that all states should allow anyone 65 and older, as well as those with some underlying health conditions, to receive the vaccines, instead of using more stringent criteria.
Fauci said that he had spoken to Gen. Gustave Perna, the head of the Trump administration’s vaccine rollout, about the issue as recently as Sunday morning.
He said that there had been a “misunderstanding” about initially wanting to hold back supply of the vaccine to be sure that everyone who received a first dose was able to get a second one. But now that the supply appears “consistent and reliable,” Fauci said that those doses don’t need to be held back.
The news comes as the incoming Biden administration continues to double down on its goal of 100 million coronavirus vaccinations in the first 100 days after Biden takes office.
“One thing that’s clear is that the issue of getting 100 million doses in the first 100 days is absolutely a doable thing,” he said, adding that Biden is ready to use expansive government power to make sure companies are making enough vaccine components and personal protective equipment to ensure a steady supply.
Coronavirus cases and deaths have skyrocketed in the last few months, despite warnings from public officials like Fauci.
More than 23,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 in the last seven days, an average of more than 3,000 per day. And over that same period, daily new cases averaged about 228,000.
And there’s growing concern about mutations of the virus that could be more contagious. Even if the new strains aren’t more deadly, Fauci said the increased infections could put even more strain on the nation’s hospital system.
“Just by numbers alone, the more cases you have, the more hospitalizations you have and the more hospitalizations you have the more deaths you have,” he said.
But he stressed that American public health officials are “all over” researching the potential effects of these mutations, and said that the public has the tools it needs to fight back.
“When you have a variant that is really very, very different, in the sense that it’s more contagious, it tells you to do two things," Fauci said. "One, double down on the public health measures we’ve been talking about all the time. Be very compulsive, as the president-elect says, at least for the first 100 days and maybe more, everybody wear a mask, keep the distance, avoid congregate settings."
He added: “But also, another important thing: The easiest way to evade this negative effect of these new isolates is to, when the vaccine becomes available, people should get vaccinated. If there was ever a clarion call for people to put aside vaccine hesitancy, if we can get the overwhelming majority of the population vaccinated, we’d be in very good shape.”