(NEXSTAR) – The nation’s top infectious disease doctor warned Wednesday that the United States is “not in a good place” as winter looms and says he thinks a vaccine won’t be available in the U.S. until at least January.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said during an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association that current vaccine trials are “event based,” with infections being the events. He said he doesn’t think companies will have data from the necessary number of events until December.
After the minimum number of events are compiled can a company submit the study to the Data and Safety Monitoring Board, which would have to examine the findings to determine if the company can move forward. Only then, Fauci said, can companies start to apply for an emergency use authorization from the FDA for the vaccine.
“Could be January, could be later,” Fauci said.
Fauci said the country is already lagging behind when it comes to the work done over the summer to fight back the virus.
“We should have been way down in baseline and daily cases and we’re not,” Fauci said.
The number of coronavirus cases is surging in the United States, with the case count rising in nearly every state. Deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are also climbing.
Also concerning is that cases are going up simultaneously for people from different groups and of different ages,” he added. With holiday travel and increasingly colder temperatures soon to drive people indoors, the combination is a “bad recipe” according to Fauci.
When asked about the safety of air travel, Fauci said that reports have varied, with one claiming that air filters and mask protocols effectively help prevent transmission, while a recent case study linked a 7-hour flight to Ireland to 59 COVID cases.
Fauci said air travel still presents a risk, but it’s a relative risk that people will have to decide for themselves based on their own health factors and tolerance for possible exposure to strangers who may be carrying the virus. He went on to emphasize caution when it comes to bringing family members – especially those with health issues – together around the holidays.
Fauci reiterated that herd immunity achieved by attempting to shelter vulnerable people while allowing others to get sick will not work the way many proponents have said.
“If you do that, by the time you get to what you think might be herd immunity, 70-75% – it’s an estimate, no one really knows what herd immunity is with this disease,” Fauci said, “You know how many deaths you’re going to have before you get there? That’s an unacceptable pathway.”
Fauci said the nation’s best pathway to herd immunity is through a vaccine, “not by letting everybody get infected.”
In the meantime, masks are a tool that has proven effective in other countries and in settings in the U.S. when worn consistently while around other people, Fauci said.
“At least do the fundamental, basic things,” he said. “(Wearing a mask) almost becomes a political statement, we’ve got to get away from that.”