Photograph: Joshua Roberts/AFP/Getty Images
The US is “unlikely” to achieve herd immunity to the coronavirus even with a vaccine, according to the country’s leading public health expert, who warned that a “general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling” is likely to thwart vaccination efforts.
In an interview with CNN, Dr Anthony Fauci also said people not wearing masks was “a recipe for disaster” and said of the Trump administration’s attempts at contact tracing: “I don’t think we’re doing very well.”
The US reported a record number of new coronavirus cases in a single day on Friday, with 36 states reporting a rise in infections and Texas, Florida and Arizona particularly badly hit. With more than 2.5m coronavirus cases and more than 125,000 deaths, the US accounts for about 25% of all coronavirus cases and deaths worldwide.
Countries including the US are scrambling to develop a vaccine, and Fauci has said one could be available by the end of 2020 or early 2021. But he suggested the vaccine would not be fully effective.
“The best we’ve ever done is measles, which is 97% to 98% effective,” Fauci told CNN. “That would be wonderful if we get there. I don’t think we will. I would settle for [a] 70%, 75% effective vaccine.”
Polls have shown that many Americans are skeptical of a vaccine. In May only half of Americans said they would get one if it becomes available, while a Washington Post survey showed 27% would likely refuse a vaccine.
Fauci was asked if herd immunity could be achieved through two-thirds of the population taking a vaccine that was only 70% to 75% effective.
“No – unlikely,” he said.
“There is a general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling among some people in this country – an alarmingly large percentage of people, relatively speaking,” Fauci said, adding that the government has “a lot of work to do” to educate people about vaccines.
Contact tracing – the act of monitoring people who have come into contact with someone infected with the coronavirus – is seen as one of the most effective measures until a vaccine is developed. Asked how the US is performing on contact tracing, Fauci said: “I don’t think we’re doing very well.
“If you go into the community and call up and say: ‘How’s the contact tracing going?’ The dots are not connected because a lot of it is done by phone. You make a contact, 50% of the people, because you’re coming from an authority don’t even want to talk to you.”
Responding to people’s resistance to wearing masks, Fauci said it was “a recipe for disaster” and said some states had reopened too quickly.
“There are some states in which the leadership and the decision [to open up] was a little too precipitous,” he said. “There are others when the leadership did it right, but the citizenry didn’t listen to them.”