While critics of Canada’s vaccine rollout continue to point to the more accelerated COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci says he isn’t planning on American life getting back to some semblance of normality any earlier than Canadian officials are aiming for.
In an exclusive interview with Evan Solomon on CTV’s Question Period, the director of the United States’ National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that on the current timeline for immunizations in that country, he isn’t expecting life to start looking as it did pre-COVID-19 until the fall or winter of 2021.
“By the time we get to the fall or winter, we likely would be able to achieve some degree of normality,” Fauci said. “You’ve got to logistically get all these people vaccinated, and that in and of itself is going to take several months and by the time the immunity sets in, we’re going to be well into and beyond the summer.”
Fauci said that if a country is able to get the pandemic under control with vaccines, it will require between 70 and 85 per cent of the population to be immunized to create the “umbrella, or a blanket of herd immunity.”
Right now, the Canadian government is planning for all Canadians who want to be vaccinated, able to have access to a shot by the end of September, meaning the herd immunity threshold could be reached in the months prior and some degree of pre-pandemic life could be possible come the fall.
As of late Friday afternoon Canada had vaccinated 1.3 per cent of the population according to CTV News’ vaccine tracker. The United States had vaccinated 3.37 per cent of its population, though health facilities in that country have reported their own challenges with the rollout, from shortages to a lack of vaccine confidence from some front-liners who are eligible.
One of the outstanding factors in establishing whether Canada will be able to remain on track with this vaccination timeline, is the availability of doses. On Friday the federal government was delivered a “temporary” setback, with an average of half of the doses coming from Pfizer-BioNTech over the next month held back due to manufacturing delays.
Asked how the United States has been able to access more doses quickly, Fauci pointed to the made-in-America domestic production aspect of their vaccine operation, something Canada does not have.
VACCINE LONGEVITY AND MUTATIONS
Another yet-to-be-settled question is how long the vaccines provide immunity for, and whether people will have to receive booster shots on an ongoing basis in the years ahead. Asked for his insight on how this could play out, Fauci said it will depend on the “durability of immunity,” as well as whether the mutations being tracked evade the current vaccines’ efficacy.
He said it’s “certainly a possibility” that rolling vaccinations will become a reality.
Fauci said that he is watching “very carefully,” the evolving information about emerging COVID-19 strain variants, such as those that have been discovered in the U.K., South Africa, and Brazil, including to see whether or not the mutated virus can escape the protection of vaccines.
Right now, he isn’t planning to advise President-Elect Joe Biden to shut the border to these countries, as Canada is eyeing. Fauci said closing the borders isn’t a “major serious discussion,” but said in situations like pandemics, anything is on the table.
“If you go first and go to 40,000 feet and look at the situation: These viruses are RNA viruses, they tend to mutate. The more replication of virus there is, the greater the virus has a chance to mutate. So the easiest way to get things under control, is to suppress the replication of virus which means decrease the amount of infections in the community,” he said.
U.S. NOT DELAYING 2ND DOSE
In Canada the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has recently approved delaying administering second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for up to 42 days, though it’s not an approach the U.S. is looking to take.
While it’s being used in Canada to try to get as many needles offering partial immunity out to people as possible given the surging case counts and small number of doses available so far, Fauci isn’t advising states to follow suite, citing the lack of data.
“If there would be any effect that would likely be the effect on efficacy. And quite frankly, and in fairness to the Canadian approach, we don’t know whether that would be less effective or as effective or more effective because we don’t have any data in that regard,” he said.
In a separate interview, NACI chair Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh said it’s not the first time her advisory committee has made what she called an “off-label” recommendation and that it’s common that it’ll be done in Canada but not in the United States. “The U.S. are not open to off label recommendations,” she said.