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Dr. Fauci Warns of 'Major Surging' of COVID

"We are in a very difficult situation" despite potential vaccine news, he said.
Female doctor with a patient who is complaining of chest pain during coronavirus epidemic.

Despite this week's good news about a potential coronavirus vaccine, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, warned that the world is "in a very difficult situation" heading into the holiday season.

On Monday, Pfizer announced that its potential COVID-19 vaccine was 90% effective in late-stage testing. (That report has yet to be peer-reviewed, and the company hasn't yet applied for the vaccine's authorization or distribution). This was a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel of a nearly yearlong pandemic, but Fauci said the journey is far from over. "I want people to understand in the United States, in Europe and in the UK, we are in a very difficult situation," he said in an interview during the Financial Times' Global Boardroom Conference Wednesday. "We are seeing major surging of cases in the United States." Read on to hear how he thinks you can protect yourself, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.

Dr. Fauci said we need to "intensify" public health measures

Fauci pointed out that the US had seen more than 100,000 new cases for the last 10 days, and more than 40 states had reported an increase. "Help is on the way, because vaccines are going to come," said Fauci. "But rather than have us relax our public health measures because we feel we have a vaccine, we should intensify them."

In Fauci's mind, we need to "Globally all work together to intensify our efforts of control as the vaccine is starting to roll out," he said. "That's what we really need to do, rather than declare victory. We are very, very far from victory. We've really got to double down on the public health measures" such as universal mask-wearing, and avoiding crowds and gatherings.

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Vaccine news hopeful, he says, but not 100% guaranteed

Pfizer's vaccine was developed from MRNA (messenger DNA), similar to certain cancer therapies that instruct the body's immune cells to produce viral proteins, which the body recognizes as an invader and produces antibodies against. This is different from traditional vaccines, which use inactivated virus to induce the production of antibodies. One advantage of MRNA vaccines is that they can be produced more quickly than traditional methods, which require time to create large amounts of virus. 

Another company, Moderna, also used the MRNA method and is due to report the results of its late-phase trials within weeks. Health officials were pleasantly surprised by the Pfizer results; some had previously said a vaccine that was 50% to 70% effective would be acceptable.

Because of the similarity between the two vaccine candidates, Fauci is guardedly optimistic that multiple therapies will soon be available. "One of the things I've learned over the decades, as it were, that I've been involved in vaccines: don't ever get overconfident and don't assume anything," says Fauci. "But it just makes logical sense that if you're dealing with a candidate vaccine that is almost identical, in fact, is identical in many respects to the Pfizer product, I would really be surprised if we did not see a high degree of efficacy, it may not be 95%. It might be 90 or 96 or 89, but it's going to be up there."

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Recent spread of virus is "exponential … quite disturbing"

That said, "It's very unfortunate that globally and including in the United States, we're seeing unprecedented surges of cases," said Fauci. "It's almost at an exponential level. I looked at the data carefully this morning, and it's really quite disturbing."

On Thursday, the US reported more than 140,000 new coronavirus cases, a daily record. There have been 10.3 million cases nationwide since the beginning of the pandemic. At least 240,000 Americans have died. Health officials worry that cooler weather, and the indoor gatherings they bring, could cause a surge in cases that overwhelms hospitals.

So do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.