Additional cases of COVID-19 in the cooler months are inevitable in New Jersey, but not necessarily a second wave, according to the nation's top doctor in the battle against the novel coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

And people in the Garden State have the opportunity this fall and winter to significantly limit the spread of both influenza and the coronavirus, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said.

During a Zoom chat with Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday, which broadcast live on Facebook, Fauci said "if we do it right" — get vaccinated for the flu and continue practicing coronavirus prevention measures such as social distancing, wearing masks and frequent handwashing — New Jersey is in a good position to keep COVID-19 and influenza at bay, thanks to the state's encouraging statistics related to transmission and positive cases.

In Argentina, South Africa and Australia, where people followed these practices, residents experienced "practically a nonexistent flu season," Fauci noted.

"A vaccine against flu will help prevent the confluence of two respiratory diseases, because you know that there's going to be COVID in the fall," Fauci told Murphy during the 30-minute chat, which reached more than 9,000 live viewers at one point.

Fauci said there are currently 200 million doses of flu vaccine available in the United States.

"Try and get it no later than October, but if somehow you slip, it's never too late," Fauci said.

COVID-19 vaccine

The wait continues, however, for an option to immunize one's self against COVID-19. A handful of trials have advanced to Phase 3, a step before FDA approval. There will soon be a total of six of these Phase 3 trials, testing potential vaccines on thousands of individuals, Fauci said.

Best-case scenario, Fauci said, a vaccine would be ready for public usage "at the end of the year into the beginning of next year." But, we're likely to land on a vaccine that's only 70 to 75% effective, and not everyone's convinced that a vaccine is truly safe, he added. It's also possible that no trials are green-lighted to continue, and officials could learn that's the case as soon as next month.

Addressing vaccination safety and transparency, "the elephant in the room," Fauci said every trial features an independent group of scientists, vaccinologists, ethicists and statisticians that view a trial's results before anyone else.

"That group is not beholden to the company, not beholden to the FDA, not beholden to the president, and not beholden to me. They're independent," Fauci said.

If that group thinks a vaccine should advance, they would tell the company, who'd then inform the Food and Drug Administration, Fauci explained. The FDA would then get another independent body involved.

"The fact that it is deemed to be safe and effective is going to get a lot of public scrutiny, so I think people need to appreciate that if somebody tries to make an end-run ... it's going to be public — people will know that that's what's going on," he said.

If a vaccine's approved, certain individuals, such as healthcare workers and those in vulnerable populations, could be prioritized for vaccination, and all who wish to be vaccinated may not be able to do so until the middle of 2021, Fauci said.

Fauci said ideally, 100% of eligible individuals would get vaccinated for COVID-19 by the end of 2021. But a rate of 75 to 80% "would be a really good accomplishment for us."

New Jersey's total of positive COVID-19 cases jumped by 588 on Thursday, to more than 201,000. The state reported an additional 100 deaths related to the illness, bringing the state's count to 14,300 lives lost.

Contact report Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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