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Dr. Anthony Fauci says it's 'crunch time' for vaccine development

Public skepticism toward vaccines is something officials will need to overcome once a coronavirus vaccine is ready for the public, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday.

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Video above: Final-stage testing of COVID-19 vaccine begins

Public skepticism toward vaccines is something officials will need to overcome once a coronavirus vaccine is ready for the public, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN on Monday.

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Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is working with Moderna on a potential vaccine, said there will need to be a campaign of community engagement and outreach.

"If we get a widespread uptake of vaccine, we can put an end to the pandemic and we can create a veil of immunity that would prevent the infection coming back," he told CNN.

"You have to do it by extending yourself to the community, not by a dictum from Washington."

The first Phase 3 clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine in the U.S., developed by Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, began Monday. Fauci called it "crunch time" for vaccine development, and said he's "cautiously optimistic" about the progress.

"We're trying to figure out does it actually work," he said. It will "take several months to determine if in fact (the vaccine) does work," he said. "To go from not even knowing what the virus was in early January to a phase 3 trial is really record time."

Fauci also told CNN Monday he may have been exposed to the virus. Fauci was in the same room as President Donald Trump's national security adviser Robert O'Brien "a week or two ago," he said. O'Brien, who has tested positive for COVID-19, has said he is experiencing "mild symptoms and is "self-isolating." O'Brien has been working from home since last week.

The Moderna vaccine is one of 25 in clinical trials around the world, according to the World Health Organization. Pfizer and BioNTech also announced Monday that they have begun a Phase 2/3 study of a coronavirus vaccine.

Cases might be plateauing

After weeks of sharp increases, there are some signs that new coronavirus cases in the United States may be plateauing at a high daily rate.

Nationally, the seven-day daily average of new confirmed cases was just under 66,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That is still a startlingly high number of infections, but it's the lowest it has been in the U.S. in 10 days.

The trend can be seen more clearly in new case totals in Arizona, Texas and Florida. In these states, which reopened without effective safety protocols and saw rapid case spread since June, new cases have flattened or slightly decreased recently.

The flattening trends generally coincide with decisions made by states last month to roll back reopenings and close bars, which had been hotbeds of coronavirus spread, particularly among young people. Texas also instituted a mask-wearing requirement in early July.

It's too early to say whether these trends will last. Across the country, 22 states saw increases in new cases over the past week compared to the week prior, 20 states have been steady, and eight states saw decreases.

White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said Friday there was evidence of plateau in several major states.

Speaking on NBC's "Today" show, Birx said, "We're already starting to see some plateauing in these critical four states that have suffered under the last four weeks. So Texas, California, Arizona and Florida, those major metros and throughout their counties."

Despite the possible plateau, the national seven-day average of deaths, which generally trails weeks behind cases and hospitalizations, is starting to increase.

Meanwhile, the seven-day average of hospitalizations remains at a level on par with April and has not increased substantially in the past week.

However, the Covid Tracking Project, which CNN uses for hospitalization numbers, has indicated some states are seeing issues related to the CDC-HHS handover, which may be keeping hospital numbers down. Hospital data on coronavirus patients is now going to the Trump administration instead of first being sent to the CDC.

The Johns Hopkins University data on total confirmed cases comes from individual counties and states and is not effected by the change.

Overall, the United States accounts for about a quarter of the world's cases and deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Within the U.S., both California and Florida have surpassed New York in terms of total confirmed cases, and Texas is on pace to surpass New York in the next few days.

Those numbers are a bit misleading, though, as New York's overwhelming coronavirus outbreak occurred in March and April, when testing was scarce.