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'This is not fake news': Dr. Fauci talks holiday travel safety and upcoming vaccines in 1-on-1 interview

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he remains "concerned" that Americans might not get vaccinated.

WASHINGTON — The nation's top expert in infectious diseases sat down for a one-on-one interview with our Verify team, answering some of your questions about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

From mask mandates to upcoming holiday travel, here's what we learned from Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Vaccine release status

Earlier this week, Pfizer announced they will be officially asking for emergency use authorization from the FDA regarding their COVID-19 vaccine. But when does Fauci see a vaccine being released? Early December?

In his eyes, early December might be too soon. Instead, he said you would most likely see doses given to those in priority need by late December.

"Doses will be given to people judged to be of the highest priority, ultimately, by the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but also with heavy input from an advisory committee that they use continually when they have to make decisions about the prioritization of vaccines," he said. "But I would say late December, much more likely than early December."

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Who would be among those priority first groups?

According to Fauci, the decision ultimately comes down to those in charge at the CDC. When an Emergency Use Authorization is issued, advisory committees make recommendations and advice to the CDC director, who can then make a list to the public of what the priority groups would look like.

"You should be hearing about that reasonably soon is my guess," Fauci said, noting that it's "likely" that health care workers are amongst the first groups to receive it. 

Holiday travel

The CDC has issued guidance against Thanksgiving travel, but many Americans have made the decision to still get on airplanes and travel to visit loved ones.

What message does Fauci have for those traveling out of town, or even locally?

" I think that each individual family unit, each individual person, should make a risk-benefit determination regarding traveling or having people come to them after traveling in their home," he said, emphasizing that he understands each family is different. 

He urged that regardless of your family situation, it's important to take notice of the risks that each activity could bring -- not just to yourself, but also to loved ones who might be at risk.

"For example, if you have a situation where you want to have a big family dinner for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but you have people in your home or the home to which you're going, that are either elderly or have underlying conditions that put them at risk, you really want to be careful about that," he said. 

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Will Fauci himself be traveling for Thanksgiving, or having relatives visit?

"Unfortunately, no," he said. "I have adult daughters, three of them living in various parts of the country, different states, airplane rides away," he said. "They've made a decision. They're not going to come home, because they don't want to put me, their father, at risk when they traveled to get here."

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Mask mandates and new curfews

Each state has been emphasizing new rules and restrictions and rolling back on reopening as they see surges. Some, like Maryland and Virginia, have issued curfews that place limits on food and beverages being sold to help discourage large gatherings.

How much longer does Fauci expect people will need to wear masks in public?

That question is difficult to answer, Fauci said, as it will depend not only on the number of people willingly getting vaccinated, but also on when the country will have an efficacious vaccine.

"In order to make an efficacious vaccine effective, you have to have a substantial proportion of the population get vaccinated right now," he said. We have a lot of convincing to do. There is a lot of skepticism in the community."

"If you get 50% of the population vaccinated, that's just not enough -- you're going to be wearing masks for a considerable period of time," he continued. "If you get the overwhelming majority of the population vaccinated, I don't think that even then you're going to completely abandon all public health measures because there will be circumstances where you might have to implement public health measures, even if you were vaccinated."

"So rather than looking at as a complete substitution for health, for public health measures, you should look at [masks] as a complement to that so that they're not nearly as stringent as we need to have them now, but that there is still there in some manner of form to a greater or lesser degree." 

Will we still be needing to wear masks in 2021?

That depends, Fauci said, on the public's determination to beat the virus.

"I think if we get a good uptake of vaccines, like with measles where the overwhelming majority of the population gets vaccinated, then I think we can have a very close to normal holiday season in 2021, at least I hope," he said.

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What does Fauci think about mandates and limiting capacity of places?

"When you're having a raging outbreak in your community -- be it a state, a city or a local community -- sometimes at the local level, mandates of some sort are really necessary, because people are not appreciating, not only the endangering of themselves but the endangering of society," he said, noting they aren't perfect.

He went on to state that he knows each state operates differently, but that any restrictions help.

"To me, there are multiple levels," he said. "You might say close a bar or a restaurant, that's the top, or limit the capacity of a bar or a restaurant. Or if I can't close it, and I can't limit the capacity, at least limit the hours. So a curfew, though not the most effective way of doing it, is better than nothing because it does diminish the time that people are exposing themselves to either transmissibility or acquisition of infection."

So, would Fauci support a universal mandate?

When asked for what he wishes the Biden administration would put in place on the first day of the presidency, the talk of a universal mandate came up. But Fauci was clear in the notion that he understood it wasn't going to come centrally, instead recommending it be enforced locally.

" I do not think it's going to come centrally and very likely would come locally, governors and mayors and people like that would do that," he said. "Mandates are difficult when you start telling people what to do. Sometimes they push back. And that's the reason why I have not been in favor of it, not because I don't think it would be effective, but because I think people would push back." 

On misinformation and skepticism: "This is not fake news."

With the rise of ongoing cases and each state using different guidelines to help mitigate virus spread, how has disinformation and ongoing skepticism about health procedures impacted the way Fauci and other top officials deliver news?

"It's stunning that there are people who are in ICU beds, people who are in the hospital who still believe it's a hoax," Fauci said. "It's stunning, it's almost unbelievable, but it is true." 

What about those who believe upcoming vaccines are a hoax?

 "Because we are seeing that, that's going to make it very difficult for people to get their arms around this concept that you're dealing with a very threatening outbreak," Fauci said. "And one of the tools that we now have available is a vaccine." 

Fauci said he remains "very concerned" that a mass amount of the public has been skeptical of the vaccination process.

 "It just seems extraordinary that people don't want to rush to get the vaccine, as opposed to being skeptical about it," he said. "When you see something that you have is an enormously effective tool, and people don't want to use it, it is quite frustrating."

Lastly, we asked Fauci about any moments that stuck with him throughout this whole process. What would he say to the public?

"I think one of the things is something that you mentioned at the beginning of the interview, that even when the danger to one's own personal health and life is right, looking at you swear in the eye, that you can't recognize that that's not a hoax," he said. "It's not. It's not fake news, this is real. That itself is just, it's almost an unbelievable concept."

Watch the full interview with Dr. Fauci below. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci has served as head director for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, and has advised six presidents on a wide range of domestic and global health issues.

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