If you and your family members are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, it's OK for you to ditch the masks this holiday season when you're around each other, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN 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 nation's top infectious disease expert also noted if you are traveling or are unaware of 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 you're not, please be careful," Fauci said. "Get tested if you need to get tested when you're getting together, but that's not a substitute for getting vaccinated. Get yourself vaccinated and you can continue to enjoy interactions with your family and others."
Fauci's comments come as the U.S. faces the second holiday season of the pandemic, but the first with safe and effective vaccines now available to people ages 5 and older. Still, a significant part of the eligible population remains unvaccinated.
According to data published Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 196 million people, or 59% of the total U.S. population is 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 been among unvaccinated people, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said Sunday.
"More than a thousand people dying every day -- the vast majority of them unvaccinated. Those are preventable deaths, probably at least 100,000 of the deaths that have happened this year didn't need to," Collins said.
The seven-day average of vaccinations has increased -- about 36% compared to last week -- due in large part to vaccinations among newly eligible children.