NEW YORK — Millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses are administered in the United States every day, but the fear of another surge in cases continues as virus variants spread and restrictions are rolled back.
The nation is itching to get back to normal, but the big question is: Can we?
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, told PIX11’s Dan Mannarino on Monday the U.S. is facing “really a critical time” as health officials race to vaccinate Americans amid a “disturbingly high daily count of cases.”
Daily case numbers as recent as last week have been even higher — around 60,000 to 70,000 new infections per day, Fauci said.
Coming off the Easter and Passover holidays, when many families gather, concern is growing over a potential fourth wave of infections.
Fauci said there is a risk of another surge, but vaccinating millions of people per day paired with not pulling back too quickly on public health mitigations could prevent or significantly reduce another wave of cases and deaths.
“We understand the COVID fatigue that people have; wanting to get back to normal. But if you pull back on things like mask mandates and restaurants and bars and things, you do have a danger of having that surge occur,” Fauci said. “We just need to hold on a bit longer because every day that we get 3 to 4 million people vaccinated, we get closer and closer to having a broad umbrella of protection over the community.”
Folks across the country have been wearing masks to slow the spread of the virus for about a year, and many who are fully vaccinated have wondered when they can toss them for good.
While more people are protected by COVID vaccines every day, Fauci said the country is not in a place to lift mask mandates yet.
“We’ll be able to do that when you get the overwhelming majority of the population vaccinated and the level of infection in the community is extremely low,” Fauci said. “When you get to that point, you will reach what we refer to as this terminology of herd immunity, which means there will be very little infection in the community.”
In the meantime, the threat of virus variants and several unknown variables regarding the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines also play a role in how long it will take before Americans can return to certain pre-COVID behaviors.
Fauci said it appears the protection provided by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is durable, but it has only been studied for six to eight months, so it’s possible that Americans may need to get a booster shot down the road.
“Almost certainly [the protection] is going to diminish over time, but we don’t know how long that’s going to be,” Fauci said. “We may need [a booster shot] … but we don’t know exactly when because we don’t know when it gets to the point when it gets below the level of protection.”
The potential for a booster shot is one of the many facets of COVID-19 vaccines that are currently being studied.
Scientists and health experts are also closely monitoring data related to a fully vaccinated person’s ability to carry the virus and transmit it to another person.
A vaccinated person can “theoretically” get the virus and give it to someone else, Fauci said.
“However, as time goes by, more and more data we accumulate strongly suggests that it occurs very rarely and even when it does, it’s unlikely that you’re going to transmit it to somebody else,” Fauci said. “We’re doing a definitive study now on college campuses to answer that question. When it gets answered definitely, then you’ll hear a recommendation that if you’re vaccinated, you don’t have to be wearing a mask. But we’re not there yet.”