(CNN) — If you and your family members are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s okay to ditch the masks this holiday season when you’re together, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN on Sunday.
“That’s what I’m going to do with my family,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”
However, the leading US infectious disease expert also pointed out that if you are traveling or do not know the vaccination status of the people around you, then you should wear a mask in those situations.
“Get vaccinated and you can enjoy the holidays very easily. And if not, be careful,” Fauci said. “Get tested if you need to get tested when they meet, but that is not a substitute for vaccination. Get vaccinated and you can continue to enjoy interactions with your family and others.”
Fauci’s comments come as the US faces the second Christmas season of the pandemic, but the first with safe and effective vaccines now available for people ages 5 and up. Still, a significant portion of the eligible population remains unvaccinated.
According to data released Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 196 million people, or 59% of the total US population, are fully vaccinated. But about 26.6% of the eligible population, or 83 million people, have yet to receive a first dose.
The vast majority of COVID-19 deaths so far this year have occurred among unvaccinated people, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said on Sunday.
“More than 1,000 people die every day, the vast majority of them unvaccinated. Those are preventable deaths, probably at least 100,000 of the deaths that occurred this year didn’t have to be that way,” Collins said.
The average seven-day vaccinations has increased, about 36% compared to last week, due in large part to vaccinations among newly eligible children.
The definition of “fully vaccinated” remains the same, says Fauci
Another factor here is the vaccine booster doses: As of Friday, the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved boosters for every adult who received the vaccine. against COVID-19 from Moderna or Pfizer / BioNTech six months ago or more.
The agencies had already said that everyone who received the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine two months or more ago should receive a booster.
For now, Fauci said the US definition of “fully vaccinated” remains the same – two doses administered within a certain time frame – but those guidelines could potentially change with more data.
“Two doses over a period of time means you are fully vaccinated, but what you want people and viewers to understand is not how effective the vaccine is – it’s quite effective – it’s for how long,” he said.
“We are going to see right now what the durability of the booster is. We are going to follow the people who get boosted,” Fauci told Bash. “It will be guided by science, and people should not be put off by the fact that as time goes on and we learn more and more about protection, we may change the guidelines.”
Fauci stressed the importance of vaccines and boosters in the coming months, as he noted that an increase in cases “is not unexpected” in the winter.
Those who are eligible for vaccines but remain unvaccinated pose a risk not only to themselves and other people who are not vaccinated, he said, “but it also extends to vaccinated people, because no vaccine is 100% effective.”
“We have a large amount of virus circulating. We know that there are post-vaccination infections and this is how the cases increase,” Fauci said. “The conclusion, common denominator of all these data, is that we should get vaccinated if we are not vaccinated, and receive a booster if we are vaccinated.”
CNN’s Maggie Fox contributed to this report.