Dr. Anthony Fauci says the surge in coronavirus cases related to gatherings and travel over the Thanksgiving holiday may not be felt for weeks and could run right into the Christmas season.
"May be a little bit of blip (right now), but we don't expect to see the full brunt of it between two and three weeks following Thanksgiving, so I think we have not yet seen the post-Thanksgiving peak," Fauci told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Friday. "That's the concerning thing because the numbers in and of themselves are alarming, and then you realize that it is likely we'll see more of a surge as we get two to three weeks past the Thanksgiving holiday."
The U.S. set a daily record for COVID-19 deaths with 2,802 on Thursday, which also marked the third straight day with more than 2,000 deaths, according to an NBC News tally. More than 205,000 cases were reported nationwide Thursday, which marked the single-day high of the pandemic, and Fauci fears it could only get worse as we hit the upcoming Christmas season.
"The thing that concerns me is that abuts right on the Christmas holiday as people start to travel and shop and congregate, so that's the reason why we plead with them to please, as best as you can, uniform wearing of masks, keep distances to the best possible way you can, avoid crowds in congregate settings, particularly indoors, and if you are indoors in that circumstance, always wear your mask," he said.
The nation's top infectious diseases expert also confirmed President-elect Joe Biden's comments to CNN on Thursday night that Biden reached out to Fauci to ask him to be part of his COVID-19 team and serve as a chief medical advisor in the new administration.
"Absolutely, I said yes right on the spot," he said.
Fauci encouraged vigilance by Americans with "a light at the end of the tunnel" in the form of multiple COVID-19 vaccines up for approval by the Food and Drug Administration that could start to be administered to high-risk groups by the end of the month.
He also apologized for critical comments he made Thursday insinuating that Britain did not do a thorough job in vetting the vaccine when it became the first Western country to grant emergency authorization to Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine Tuesday. He initially told Sky News that the United Kingdom has an approval process that is "less deep" than the United States.
"It was just one of those things where I sat down in front of the TV with a British TV station and the first thing they said was, 'Ah, we beat you guys, we beat the Americans to the punch,' and I kind of reacted back at him when I think I probably should not have," Fauci said. "The Brits are good, they know what they're doing, they're really pros, so that was just not really what I meant."
Fauci was then asked why the FDA has yet to approve the vaccine in America.
"In fact, our process is a little bit different," Fauci said. "What our FDA does is that they scrutinize every single bit of the data themselves. They don't just take the word of the company that this is the way it is. They act like they're really a reviewer for a journal.
"That's just the way they do it. ... I'm not saying it's better, I'm not saying it's worse, it's just different. But we are, and I won't back down on this, the FDA of the United States is the gold standard for regulatory looking at things like drugs and devices and vaccines, there's no question about that."
As far as the long-term safety of COVID-19 vaccines, Fauci said that more than 90% of adverse events related to new vaccines occur between 30 and 45 days of taking them, which has been factored into the testing process for their approval.
"That's the precise reason why you remember back a couple of weeks ago that the FDA said they would not issue an EUA (emergency use authorization) until they were 60 days beyond when half of the people received their last dose," Fauci said. "So they've already baked in that 60-day period of observation before they do anything."
Fauci also applauded this week's announcement by former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton that they would publicly take the vaccine on camera to encourage the public to get vaccinated and demonstrate its safety.
"Anyone that can build the confidence of the public about getting a vaccine would be a good thing because we really do have to get as many people as possible vaccinated because having an extraordinarily efficacious vaccine like we do have for sure, 94-95% efficacious, doesn't mean anything if people don't get vaccinated," he said.