KEY POINTS

  • Fauci sees major progress by the second quarter if vaccines are taken
  • Most people who want one can get one by May, he said
  • Moderna is the latest to seek emergency-use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease experts in the U.S., said if enough people take a vaccine for COVID-19 when it’s available, the pandemic could be below “the danger point” by the middle of next year.

Biotech company Moderna became the latest in a growing line of pharmaceuticals seeking emergency-use authorization from U.S. and European regulators for its COVID-19 vaccine. The company on Monday released the final results of its 30,000-person clinical trial, revealing an efficacy rate of 94.1%.

Fauci said in a Monday interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that he believed a vaccine would be available to anyone who wants one by May 2021 at the latest.

"What you really want is what we have: a highly efficacious vaccine — but you also want 75 to 85% of the people to get vaccinated," he said, adding that if enough people do get vaccinated "by the end of the second quarter of the year you could have enough protection to this country that the pandemic as we know it will be well, well suppressed, below the danger point."

That, however, is not a signal for mass complacency. Making the rounds on the Sunday morning talk shows, Fauci told NBC’s “Meet the Press” the holiday season could be difficult.

“What we expect, unfortunately, as we go for the next couple of weeks into December, is that we might see a surge superimposed on the surge we are already in," he said. "I don’t want to frighten people, except to say it is not too late to do something about this.”

Going against the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 9 million people traveled by air over the Thanksgiving holiday. Despite the promising news of an eventual vaccine, Fauci pressed for the continued use of face masks and social distancing to control the spread of the infection as the year-end holiday season approaches.

“If I recommend one thing [for the holiday season] it’s that we diminish, to the extent possible, travel — and keep gatherings indoor to the immediate family unit,” Fauci told Zuckerberg.

It’s expected that healthcare workers and others on the front line will be among the first to receive vaccine doses before the end of the year.

The CDC has an advisory in place warning about the increase in COVID-19 cases as cold weather descends on the Northern Hemisphere. As of Monday, there were 152,608 new positive cases of the virus and 885 deaths attributed to complications from COVID-19.

The BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines The BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Photo: AFP / Daniel ROLAND