NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — With the Food and Drug Administration on the brink of approving a second COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, spoke with WCBS 880's Peter Haskell to reflect on what has been a historic week in the coronavirus fight.
Pfizer's vaccine is being administered to frontline health care workers and others across the nation since being rolled out to states on Monday.
"And to go from that first recognition of a new virus to doing clinical trials involving tens of thousands of people, and to show definitively by solid, scientific data that we now have a safe and effective vaccine that, as we speak, we're vaccinating people with is truly an historic accomplishment because we've been able to do it in months," Fauci said.
The rollout of the vaccine, which normally would have taken years to do just a decade ago is a testament to the extraordinary advances, in vaccine science, Fauci says.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases assures the public the vaccine is safe.
"The speed is really related to and reflective of extraordinary advances in science. So it hasn't been at the compromise of any safety nor the compromise of scientific integrity," Fauci said. "And the actual proof that it is a safe and effective vaccine was determined by independent bodies. People who are not beholden to the government nor beholden to the pharmaceutical companies."
As more products become available in the coming weeks and months, Fauci said the goal is to get an overwhelming majority of the population vaccinated so that there could be a return to some sort of normality.
As for when that might happen, Fauci believes it could be in the fall of 2021.
"Hopefully over the next several months as we get into the second and the third quarter of 2021, we reach a level of vaccination in the population that we can actually put this outbreak behind us," Fauci said. "Because when you have a substantial number of people who are vaccinated with a highly efficacious vaccine you create an umbrella or a blanket of protection over society that would hopefully get us back to some form of normality the way we knew before this terrible challenge that we've had over the last year."
Asked about the idea of an immunity passport to show proof of vaccination before flying or attending large events such as concerts or a ball game, Fauci said that he's "not so sure that's workable."
"Let's just see how that works out with people's willingness to accept that, it may not actually be readily accepted in society," he said. "If we could get the overwhelming majority of this population in our country vaccinated, we could essentially crush this outbreak and just put it behind us."
He stresses, though, that public health measures such as mask wearing and social distancing will have to continue even as vaccinations ramp up and he is urging the public to remain vigilant, especially with the Christmas and New Year's holidays coming up.
"I think people need to realize that these are unusual times and we're really facing an unprecedented challenge," Fauci said. "We don't want people to cancel Christmas and not enjoy the warmth and the comfort with family, but we just are telling people to modify it a bit."
That includes avoiding unnecessary travel and not congregating with large groups of people indoors.
"Modify it a bit," Fauci said. "We've heard people say, 'You want to cancel Christmas.' You don't want to cancel Christmas at all. That's nonsense. You want to be just a little bit more careful as we enter into a season where there's a lot of travel and a lot of congregating indoors."
Fauci is concerned that if people don't pay attention to the advice of health and medical experts over the holidays then the country could see another surge in cases on top of the surge the nation is already experiencing.
As for his own plans for Christmas and his birthday, which falls on Christmas Eve, Fauci said this will be the first time since his daughters were born that he and his wife won't spend the holidays with their children.
"My daughters live in different states throughout the country. I would love to have them with me and my wife over the Christmas holidays, but we're not going to do that," he said. "I'm gonna just have a very quiet dinner with my wife over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but we'll be connected to our children by Zoom. It's not as good as being there personally but we'll be giving a lot of virtual hugs."
While he's saddened by it, Fauci says, "We're looking forward to putting this behind us when we will get back to normal and be able to celebrate with each other the way we've done for so many years."