Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted Monday that people in the high-risk category will have access to coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna by the end of December – but said he was “concerned” about the transition between the two administrations.
The top US infectious disease doctor said on NBC News’ “Today” that the results reported by Moderna — which announced that its experimental shot was nearly 95 percent effective – are “really quite impressive.”
Last week, pharma giant Pfizer said that the initial results of its vaccine trial showed it was 90 percent effective. BioNTech made a similar announcement.
“Now we have two vaccines that are really quite effective. I think this is a really strong step forward to where we want to be about getting control of this outbreak,” he told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie on Monday.
Both Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines use messenger RNA, manufactured genetic material that’s injected into cells to provoke an immune response.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said last week that he expected the shots would have similar effectiveness because they were “identical in many respects.”
He also added that he was “concerned” about the transition between administrations.
“As you know, I’ve served in six administrations so I’ve seen a number of transitions … You just want things to go very smoothly … transitions are important,” Fauci said.
“The virus is not going to stop and call a time-out while things change. The virus is just going to keep going. The process is just going to keep going,” he said.
“The fact that help is on the way should spur us, even more, to double down on some of the public health measures, to be able to use the combination of a vaccine and public health measures to turn this thing around. We can do it,” Fauci added.
“We want to get doses to people starting in December. And then we want to really get the ball rolling as we get into January, February and March. We want a smooth process with that. The way you do that is by essentially having the two groups speak to each other and exchange information,” he said.
Asked whether he expects Moderna to receive emergency use approval from the Food and Drug Administration, he said, “Well, we all anticipate it will. I don’t want to get ahead of the FDA. But the data are striking … they’re really quite impressive. I mean, a 94.5 percent efficacy.”
Fauci also said it is “quite conceivable” that there will eventually be several other effective vaccines.
“Because one of the things that’s common about these vaccines, even though the platforms are different, the Moderna and the Pfizer one are strikingly similar,” he said.
“But other types of vaccine platforms are using what’s called the spike protein of the coronavirus. Something that has been researched very intensively right in our own group at the [National Institutes of Health] at the Vaccine Research Center to put it in the kind of confirmation that is optimum to induce a good immune response,” Fauci continued.
“Virtually all of the other vaccines rely on that spike protein. So to me that gives me hope that more than these two will also be effective,” he said.
With a surge in COVID-19 cases across the US, Fauci was asked whether this is the dark winter that he and other experts have warned about.
“I’m afraid that it can be. But we can do something about it, Savannah. I keep saying that over and over. Yes, it’s a very serious situation. We know that this COVID fatigue that people are just tired of the kinds of restrictions. But there are fundamental things that we talk about all the time that I’ve discussed with you many times,” he said.
“The physical distancing, the washing of hands, the universal wearing of masking, the staying away from crowds. If we do that uniformly throughout the country, we don’t have to accept major surges. We can blunt them. And then with the vaccine, as I use it, I say, help is on the way. It certainly is.”
Fauci also pushed back at Dr. Scott Atlas, a fellow member of the White House coronavirus task force who called for people to “rise up” up after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a three-week “pause to save lives” during the coronavirus pandemic.
“You know, I totally disagree with it. And I made no secret of that. I mean, I don’t want to say anything against Dr. Atlas as a person but I totally disagree with the stand he takes. I just do, period,” Fauci said.