Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday said he has “no doubt” that the number of Americans killed by COVID-19 is much higher than what has been officially reported, after a recent study counted nearly double the amount recorded by federal health officials.
“We’ve been saying — and the CDC has been saying all along — that it is very likely that we’re undercounting,” Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has placed the number of deaths in the U.S. at around 577,800. In comparison, a study from the University of Washington released Thursday tallied around 905,000 deaths.
“That’s a bit more than I would have thought the undercounting was,” Fauci said of that difference. “I think there’s no doubt ... that we are and have been undercounting. What that tells us is something that we’ve known. You know, we’re living through a historic pandemic, the likes of which we haven’t seen in over a hundred years.”
He went on to stress the need for people to get vaccinated, which he said will help prevent another surge in infections this fall and winter.
“The larger proportion of the population that’s vaccinated, the less likelihood that a season like the coming fall or winter you’re going to see a significant surge,” he said.
About one-third of Americans have been fully vaccinated and almost half have been at least partially vaccinated, according to CDC data released Saturday. President Joe Biden has set a goal of getting 70% of Americans vaccinated by July 4, which Fauci said he believes will be reached.
In addition to stressing the need for more people to be vaccinated, Fauci highlighted the importance of wearing masks, and credited their use to a drop in other respiratory diseases, such as the flu. With more people becoming comfortable wearing them, he said masks may become a seasonal item to help prevent disease spread.
“We’ve had practically a non-existent flu season this year merely because people were doing the kinds of public health things that were directed predominantly against COVID-19,” he said. “So it is conceivable that as we go on, a year or two or more from now, that during certain seasonal periods when you have respiratory-borne viruses like the flu, people might actually elect to wear masks to diminish the likelihood that you’ll spread these respiratory-borne diseases.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.