WASHINGTON, D.C. — With Thanksgiving less than a week away, two of the nation’s most prominent doctors in the fight against COVID-19 are urging the public to do what they’re doing — forgoing a family dinner.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, answered questions in a “tele-town hall” sponsored by AARP on Thursday.
The safest way to celebrate the holiday, they said, would be to exclude anyone who doesn’t live in your house.
“You need to keep your group as small as you possibly can,” Fauci said.
That advice ties into a fourth COVID-19 precaution that people should start observing, Collins said — avoiding indoor gatherings.
“That’s the place most infections are happening,” he said.
And they should be doubling down on the other three, he said — wearing a mask, maintaining social distance and washing their hands.
Collins said reports about vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna that are wrapping up their Phase 3 clinical trials are “exhilarating” and “breathtakingly good.”
Both are reporting 95% efficacy when scientists had been expecting something in the 70%-75% range, he said.
“Stay the course while waiting for the vaccine to become available,” he said.
Collins said he’s very concerned about polls showing that as many as 50% of the public has said they won’t get vaccinated. It’s at 90% participation, he said, that the disease will be brought under control.
They should be safe for people who have a compromised immune system, too, though it’s unknown how well their system will perform in response to the vaccine.
Also unknown is how long immunity will last.
People who have had COVID-19 should still get vaccinated, Fauci said, because the duration of natural immunity is unknown, though recent studies suggest it’s about six months.
There are a few documented cases of a second infection, Collins said, but more study is needed.
The companies expect to be able to produce a total of about 40 million doses by the end of the year, which would immunize about 20 million people because two doses are required.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working on distribution and priorities and is expected to begin with health care workers, first responders and high-risk individuals.
Pfizer’s vaccine poses an additional problem because it needs to be stored super-cold — at about minus 90 degrees.
Moderna’s vaccine, on the other hand, can be left at room temperature for up to 12 hours and kept in a refrigerator for up to 30 days, Fauci said.
“Help is in the way with the vaccines,” he said. “That should encourage us to double down” on precautions.