The U.S. could soon be giving at least a million COVID-19 vaccinations a day despite the sluggish start, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday, even as he warned of a dangerous next few weeks as the coronavirus surges.
The slow pace is frustrating health officials and a desperate public alike, with only about a third of the first supplies shipped to states used as of Tuesday morning, just over three weeks into the vaccination campaign.
"Any time you start a big program, there’s always glitches. I think the glitches have been worked out," the nation’s top infectious disease expert told The Associated Press.
Vaccinations have already begun speeding up, reaching roughly half a million injections a day, he pointed out.
Now, with the holidays over, "once you get rolling and get some momentum, I think we can achieve 1 million a day or even more," Fauci said. He called President-elect Joe Biden’s goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days "a very realistic, important, achievable goal."
It’s an optimistic prediction considering the logistical hurdles facing states and counties as they struggle to administer rationed vaccine supplies amid rising COVID-19 hospitalizations. Fauci pointed to California’s swamped hospitals and exhausted workers even before holiday travel and family gatherings added fuel to the outbreak.
Fauci estimated that between 70% and 85% of the U.S. population will need to be vaccinated to achieve "herd immunity," meaning enough people are protected that it’s difficult for the virus to continue spreading. That translates to as many as 280 million people.
He said he is hoping to achieve that by the start of next fall.
The coronavirus has killed more than 356,000 Americans, and the next few weeks could bring another jump in infections nationally that "could make matters even worse," Fauci said.
The Trump administration had promised to provide states enough vaccine for 20 million people in December, and fell short even as states struggled with their role — getting shots into people’s arms, starting mostly with health care workers and nursing home residents.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 4.8 million doses of more than 17 million delivered had been used by Tuesday morning. That is probably an undercount because of delays in reporting, but it is far fewer than experts had hoped.
Still, Fauci pointed to a celebrated moment in history to back up his projection of ramped-up inoculations: In 1947, New York City vaccinated more than 6 million people against a smallpox outbreak in less than a month — and "one of them was me as a 6-year-old boy."
If a single city could do such mass vaccinations in weeks, "this is not something that is far-fetched" for an entire country, he said. "You can use school auditoriums, you can use stadiums. You can really ramp up the contribution of pharmacies."