Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Health and Infectious Diseases, said Monday that the American public would likely begin to receive the COVID-19 vaccine somewhat early in the spring but that it would take several months before an overwhelming majority of the population was immunized.
“I think people are getting a little confused about when they can expect [the vaccine]. If you start vaccinating parts of the general public in April, by the time you get to the end of August … that’s when we should see an overwhelming majority,” Fauci said, in an interview with The Daily Beast. “That’s if you vaccinate very aggressively in May, June and July.”
Fauci’s comments clarified a Sunday statement by Surgeon General nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy who told NBC’s Meet the Press that “it may be closer to mid-summer or early fall when this vaccine makes its way to the general population.” The statement left the implication that Joe Biden’s COVID task force—on which Murthy serves—was trying to dial down expectations about a vaccine’s availability.
Fauci said while the vaccine distribution to the general public will likely start in the spring, large swaths of the country will likely be vaccinated by the end of the summer. “By that time we should be getting back to some degree of normalcy,” Fauci said.
Fauci’s comments come as the second week of the Pfizer and first round of Moderna vaccine shipments make their way out to states across the country. Millions of frontline healthcare workers, including those working in long-term care facilities, are receiving the first doses. Various frontline essential workers and individuals over the age of 75 will be included in the second tier of vaccine distribution in the next several weeks. Vice President Mike Pence told the nation’s governors in a call Monday—a copy of which was obtained by The Daily Beast—that Operation Warp Speed is on track to oversee the distribution of 11 million vaccine doses this week. The 11 million represents a combination of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. About 4 million are scheduled to go out next week.
White House COVID task force members met to discuss the vaccine rollout Monday and spoke briefly about the announcements from some states last week that they had received as much as 30 percent fewer Pfizer doses than expected. One senior administration official said governors who spoke out about the shortages were operating off of old numbers and projections. The Daily Beast previously reported that some states had received projections for the vaccine that were twice as high as the number of doses they ended up receiving this week.
In the task force meeting Monday, officials tempered concerns about future distribution issues, saying states were set to receive allocation numbers tomorrow for next week. One other senior administration official pointed to the updated allocation announcement schedule—states had previously been told on Friday what they would get for the upcoming week; now they are being told on Tuesday—as part of the reason why states had not received the expected amount of doses. The number of doses available for release on a Tuesday doesn’t necessarily include the doses that might be available for release that Friday, the official said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Pence acknowledged the change in allocation schedule on the call with governors Monday. And General Gustave Perna, the head of Operation Warp Speed, also acknowledged last week’s mixup, calling it a “mistake”.
“In all the deliveries we’ve made so far there’s been one mistake and we corrected it immediately,” Perna said.
Azar reassured governors that the distribution process will run more smoothly in the future.
“We continue to create more and more communication channels with you … to avoid any confusion about numbers or allocations,” Azar said on the call.
Fauci, Azar and NIH Health Director Francis Collins are set to receive the Moderna vaccine at a televised event Tuesday. President-elect Joe Biden received his Pfizer shot on Monday.
As more and more vaccine doses make their way across the country, Fauci said he continues to be concerned about vaccine hesitancy and convincing the American public, including healthcare workers, that the vaccine is both safe and effective.
Fauci and other task force officials have spent the last several weeks appearing on television and sitting for interviews to talk about the importance of getting vaccinated. Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services have discussed taking a more definitive step in promoting the vaccine, including drafting advertisements for television and social media, according to two officials with knowledge of the plan. On the call with governors, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and Azar called on governors to move forward with getting the vaccine and to do so in public.
Biden’s team is also in the process of drafting more definitive plans for the vaccination roll out to the general public and ensuring that the majority of Americans get immunized this spring and summer, people familiar with the president-elect’s planning said. That planning has included finding new ways to help states ensure that their residents are educated about which vaccine they will be receiving and the measures that have been taken by the company and the federal government to ensure its safety.