WEDNESDAY, Nov. 25, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Approved vaccines against the new coronavirus could begin to be distributed to the most at-risk Americans as early as mid-December, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said Thursday.
"And as we get into the first quarter of 2021 — January, February, March — more and more people will get vaccinated," he added in an HD Live! interview.
But to put a real end to the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of Americans will need to get the shot.
"Somewhere between 75% and 80% of the people [need] to get vaccinated in order to get a real umbrella of protection over the community — the 'community' being the United States of America," Fauci said. "And hopefully that can get done worldwide so that we globally crush this outbreak."
In the meantime, the most important public and family holiday of the year begins on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. And despite pleas from health officials that Americans should stay home this year to curb the spread of COVID-19, millions are traveling and gathering together as usual.
Fauci acknowledged that "it's so difficult not to do these things that are so natural to our society."
But with almost 260,000 Americans killed by the virus this year, and more than 12.6 million known cases recorded by Wednesday, America is in a "bad place," according to Fauci, who directs the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Most alarming, he said, is "the silent spread in the community from people who don't have any symptoms, who understandably and intuitively would let their guard down. And they say, 'Well, let's just get together, we're there, we're eating, we're drinking, we're not wearing a mask.' That's a risky situation."
For his part, Fauci said his three grown daughters have decided to forgo the Fauci family gathering this Thanksgiving, so Thursday will mean "a quiet dinner with my wife."
His daughters "don't want to endanger me," Fauci said. "They want to be perfectly safe, so they are saying 'Lets worry about holidays in the future, and just call a time out for this one.'"
Prepare public for vaccine
In other pandemic news, on Monday, experts attending a meeting of an advisory committee to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stressed that Americans who get a shot shouldn't be surprised if they feel under the weather for a few days afterwards.
"These are immune responses, so if you feel something after vaccination, you should expect to feel that. And when you do, it's normal that you have some arm soreness or some fatigue or some body aches or even some fever," Patricia Stinchfield of Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, told the meeting of the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. She represents the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, and said providers must be ready to explain this to people who line up to get any COVID-19 vaccine.
Vaccines work to fight disease by producing an immune response within the body. And sometimes that means flu-like symptoms, such as aches, headache and fever.
Already, some volunteers in trials of candidate vaccines from drug companies Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca have reported flu-like symptoms after immunization. And experts worry that those reports might keep people away from vaccination, or from required second doses.
The CDC's Dr. Sara Oliver told the committee during the five-hour meeting that, depending on the survey, anywhere between 40% and 80% of Americans say they'd be willing to get vaccinated.
Dr. Paul Hunter, of the city of Milwaukee health department and a voting member of the committee, said the testimonials of the first batches of people who get a COVID-19 vaccine could be crucial to wider acceptance.
"The people who highly value getting the vaccine soon and fast, early, are going to be really helpful to everyone else. And I think we really are going to need to honor them, because they are going to let us know how it feels," he told the committee. "And I think these people are likely to be health care workers who are likely to be up for that kind of task."
In the meantime, the new coronavirus is spreading across America with unprecedented speed, the White House Coronavirus Task Force said in its first briefing in four months on Thursday.
"This is more cases, more rapidly, than what we had seen before," Dr. Deborah Birx said during the briefing. "You can see the increase in test positivity to around 10%." That's the number of people tested who get a positive diagnosis.
Birx pointed to a map of the country that is covered in red, highlighting the number of daily hospitalizations, which now regularly tops 70,000, CNN reported. Birx said she has been crisscrossing the country as she tries to encourage state and local leaders to take measures to stop the spread of the virus.
Still, task force members spoke out against the idea of nationwide lockdowns or schools, even as New York City returned to remote learning this week, CNNreported.
"We do know what to do and we are asking every American to do those things today," Birx stressed. That starts with wearing masks, but also staying apart and limiting gatherings, she said.
The virus spreads even when people do not show symptoms, Birx noted. "It is because of this asymptomatic spread that we are asking people to wear a mask indoors," she said. "Decreasing those friend-and-family gatherings where people come together and unknowingly spread the virus" will also help slow the spread, she added.
Earlier Thursday, the CDC asked Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving. More than 187,000 cases were announced nationwide on Thursday, another single-day record, and daily tallies have been rising in 47 states, according to The New York Times.
In California, officials reported more than 13,000 new cases, a single-day record, prompting the state to announce a 10 p.m. curfew for all but essential workers, the Times reported.
Even if the current seven-day national average of about 166,000 daily cases plateaued until the end of the year, nearly 7 million more people would still contract COVID-19, theTimes said.
Though talk of two highly effective vaccines came this week, they will not be widely available until spring of 2021.
"We are in for a rough period through the end of February," Dr. Jessica Justman, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University in New York City, told the Times. "It looks hard to find a way to break it."
A global scourge
By Wednesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 12.6 million while the death toll neared 260,000, according to aTimes tally. According to the same tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Tuesday were: Texas with over 1.2 million; California with just over 1.1 million; Florida with over 953,000; Illinois with more than 675,000; and New York with almost 612,000.
Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.
Many European countries are tightening restrictions, theAssociated Press reported. France has entered a nationwide lockdown, and Germany and Austria have started partial lockdowns as government officials across the continent scramble to slow a sharp rise in infections that threatens to overwhelm their health care systems.
England has followed suit, while Italy, Greece and Kosovo also announced new measures, the AP reported.
Things are no better in India, where the coronavirus case count has passed 9.2 million on Wednesday, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. Almost 135,000 coronavirus patients have died in India, according to the Hopkins tally, but when measured as a proportion of the population, the country has had far fewer deaths than many others. Doctors say this reflects India's younger and leaner population. Still, the country's public health system is severely strained, and some sick patients cannot find hospital beds, the Times said. Only the United States has more coronavirus cases.
Meanwhile, Brazil passed 6.1 million cases and had more than 170,000 deaths as of Wednesday, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections neared 60 million on Wednesday, with more than 1.4 million deaths recorded, according to the Hopkins tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.
SOURCES: CNN; The New York Times; Associated Press