WASHINGTON (NBC)— Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that this weekend's emergency approval of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine now gives the nation three “highly efficacious vaccines” on the market that provide significant protection from Covid-19, and urged Americans to take whichever is available to them when they become eligible.
In an interview with "Meet the Press," Fauci said that he would take any of the three approved vaccines — from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson — because all provide strong protection from severe disease related to the coronavirus. As director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Fauci was vaccinated late last year amid an early push to inspire confidence in the vaccine rollout.
“All three of them are really quite good, and people should take the one that's most available to them,” he said.
"If you go to a place and you have J&J, and that's the one that's available now, I would take it. I personally would do the same thing. I think people need to get vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.”
The Food and Drug Administration approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on an emergency basis on Saturday, a day after its advisory panel recommended that approval. The company expects to have 20 million doses available by March.
The new vaccine differs from the other two previously approved ones because it is a single shot and does not require a second dose to be administer weeks later. Documents released by the FDA found the shot to be 86 percent effective at preventing serious disease overall — 72 percent effective in the U.S. and 64 percent in South Africa, which has seen a new strain of the disease become prominent.
While those efficacy rates are lower than what research found the Moderna and Pfizer shots ahead of those approvals, Fauci told “Meet the Press” that Americans should not be trying to compare the shots’ efficacy numbers side-by-side because each shot was examined in a different trial amid different circumstances. For example, public health officials have been more concerned in recent weeks about the rise in variants that could possibly evade vaccines.
“It’s not the weaker vaccine, they are all three really good vaccines,” Fauci said of the Johnson & Johnson shot.
There have been more than 28.6 million coronavirus infections in America and more than 514,000 deaths attributed to the virus, according to an NBC News analysis. The number of new, daily cases has plummeted in recent weeks — the seven-day average of new, daily cases sits at around 70,000, the lowest since October. And the country’s vaccination rate has been improving too with more than 68 million doses administered, according to NBC News.
Even so, deaths are dropping slower than new cases. And Fauci warned government officials that the decline in cases shouldn’t prompt a loosening of restrictions just yet because there’s still too much virus circulating in the country and he’s concerned backing off could lead to yet another spike.
"We’ve been in this situation before," he said. "When you start to see a decline in number of cases, if you prematurely lift the restrictions, we have a few examples of the rebound back. Our baseline of daily infections now, even though it's way down from where it was 300,000, plus, per day, is down to around 70,000, that baseline's too high.”
“Let's keep our feet on the accelerator right now because we are going in the right direction."