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Fauci says worst is probably still ahead; 80-85% needed for herd immunity

Anthony Fauci
Posted at 4:46 AM, Dec 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-28 07:46:20-05

Dr. Anthony Fauci said the country is at a critical place during the pandemic, and that the worst is probably still ahead. Despite warnings about traveling and getting together with people outside a household, Fauci feared another surge on top of the current surge following the Christmas holiday.

“We very well might see a post-seasonal — in the sense of Christmas, New Year’s — surge, and as I’ve described it, as a surge upon a surge,” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I share the concern of President-elect Biden that as we get into the next few weeks it might actually get worse,” Fauci continued.

During the interview, he also expressed optimism about the speed of vaccinations happening across the country.

As of Monday morning, almost 2 million Amerians have received the first dose of either Pfizer or Moderna’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly 10 million doses have been distributed to states, the CDC reports.

Over the weekend, Fauci said he now believes the country will need to reach a 80-85% rate immunity to reach so-called herd immunity. This is an increase over earlier estimates, which were closer to 70%.

On Sunday, Senator Marco Rubio called out Fauci in a tweet questioning the change.

“Dr. Fauci lied about masks in March. Dr. Fauci has been distorting the level of vaccination needed for herd immunity. It isn’t just him. Many in elite bubbles believe the American public doesn’t know ‘what’s good for them’ so they need to be tricked into ‘doing the right thing,’” Rubio’s tweet says.

Several people on Twitter responded to Rubio’s tweet with images of the senator as he received the COVID-19 vaccine last week.

Fauci defended his change in estimation, saying these calculations are guesstimates, and were based initially on available data about the measles vaccine which is 98% effective and how infectious that disease is. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine are roughly 95% effective.

"We have to realize that we have to be humble and realize what we don't know. These are pure estimates. And the calculations that I made 70, 75%, it's a range. The range is going to be somewhere between 70 and 85%,” Fauci said during the interview on CNN.

Fauci said he realized the percentage would have to be higher weeks ago, but he hesitated to announce the change because he didn’t want to discourage people from taking the vaccine, he told the New York Times.

"When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70-75%," Fauci told the New York Times. "Then, when newer surveys said 60% or more would take it, I thought, 'I can nudge this up a bit,' so I went to 80, 85."

In March, Fauci and other public officials said masks were unnecessary before they changed that recommendation at the beginning of April. Fauci has explained in the past the change in recommendation was made after doctors learned more about COVID-19 and the high degree of asymptomatic spread became apparent.

In regards to the new strain of the coronavirus identified in the United Kingdom earlier this month, Fauci says “we are looking at it intensively now” and said he agreed with a measure to require those traveling from the UK into the US to have a negative COVID-19 test.

The new strain appears to spread more rapidly, and initial indications suggest the current vaccine candidates are still effective against it.