“I think it’s a good idea, it’s never too late. This pandemic is ravaging the country. We all need to take our precaution, wear our masks, wash our hands, keep our distance, remain aware that this virus is a killer,” Slaoui told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”
“We have a vaccine, there is light at the end of the tunnel, but we will not all have the vaccine in our arms before May or June, so we need to be very cautious and vigilant,” he added.
Slaoui also said he’s planning to meet with Biden’s transition team this week to discuss plans for how to administer the vaccine to people, something the President-elect said last week that his team hadn’t yet seen.
Biden told Tapper in an exclusive interview last week that he will ask Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days after he takes office, though his transition team is treading lightly so far, saying little about how the incoming administration plans to address the plan.
Biden has acknowledged that his authority to enforce a mask mandate is limited and that he will rely heavily on the cooperation of state and local leaders, which may present a challenge in places governed by Republicans, as a number of the party’s elected leaders have resisted implementing mask orders amid the worsening pandemic.
Georgia’s Republican lieutenant governor told Tapper later in the program Sunday that although Biden’s plan is “absolutely a great step in the right direction,” mandating mask-wearing “in every single nook and cranny maybe doesn’t fit … reality.”
“Certainly I would encourage folks to wear their masks wherever they go, especially in crowds,” Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday that masks are “critical” to controlling the spread of the virus, including sometimes at home.
Slaoui said Sunday that he expects the US Food and Drug Administration to approve the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer after it meets with its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on Thursday.
“I expect them to recommend approval, based on the data I’m aware of. And I saw the vaccine is highly effective, the vaccine is safe, its safety profile is comparable to that of many other vaccines that have been in use for years,” he said.
“Overall, I really hope they do it quickly, and that the vaccine will be available to our population starting later this week,” Slaoui added.
The agency will meet with the advisory committee again next week to review a vaccine application submitted by Moderna.
Slaoui said that once a vaccine is ready for distribution, it will be administered to health care workers and elderly people in care homes with the hope that most of them will receive it in the coming weeks.
“Unfortunately, about 40 to 50% of all deaths are happening in the elderly population that’s in care homes,” he said. “We should be able to have immunized that full population and the health care workers that take care of them by the end of the month of December or by the middle of the month of January.”
And by mid-March, Slaoui said, “most of the highly susceptible population — about 100 million people,” should be vaccinated.
This story has been updated with additional details.