Washington – Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, warned Sunday that Americans shouldn't get complacent about following mitigation measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, as the number of new cases is leveling off despite more Americans receiving vaccines.
"We don't want to continue to prevent people from doing what they want to do. But let's get down to a good level," Fauci said in an interview on "Face the Nation." "Let's get many, many more people vaccinated. And then you could pull back on those types of public health measures. But right now, as we're going down and plateauing, is not the time to declare victory because we're not victorious yet."
While there has been a drop in the number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations since early January, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warned Friday that the declines could be stalling at a high number, which she said was a "very concerning shift in the trajectory." As of Friday, the seven-day average is just under 73,000 new infections, according to the CDC.
While Fauci said the fall in coronavirus cases was "really sharp and encouraging," he agreed a plateau of around 70,000 new cases per day is "concerning."
"That's exactly the thing that happened during previous surges," he said. "As it peaked and started to come down, people withdrew some of the intensity of the public health measures and it kind of stabilized at a very high level. That's very dangerous."
Fauci stressed Americans should continue to comply with public health measures such as wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings and social distancing. He said the leveling off in new cases also underscores the need to vaccinate as many people "as quickly and as expeditiously as you possibly can."
"That's why adding yet again another really good vaccine into the mix is really very important," he said.
In addition to vaccines from Pfizer, developed with BioNTech, and Moderna, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Saturday approved Johnson & Johnson's single dose COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use.
The vaccine has been shown to provide 85% protection against severe COVID-19 by 28 days after inoculation, and Fauci said the Johnson & Johnson data examined by the FDA shows there were no hospitalizations and no deaths for those who have advanced critical disease.
"We have a really good vaccine," he said.
Fauci estimated that by the end of March, there will be 20 million doses of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine available to the public and a total of 100 million doses available by June.
The Biden administration is also taking steps to quickly administer the vaccines, including standing up more than 400 community vaccine centers, delivering more doses to pharmacies, sending mobile units to hard-to-reach communities and employing more vaccinators, including members of the National Guard and retired doctors and nurses.
"That is all going to ramp up because, as you know, in the next few months, we're going to have a lot more vaccines available," he said. "And that's the reason why we're getting the capability, literally getting better every single day, of making this much more smoothly than it's gone in the past. It's going to get better, I assure you."
According to the CDC, more than 72.8 million doses of the coronavirus vaccines have been administered and 96.4 million doses delivered.