(CBS News) - Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, said "we could start talking about real normality again" in 2021 with the development and implementation of a COVID-19 vaccine. Fauci's comments came as the number of coronavirus cases in the United States surpassed 4 million.
Fauci said in an interview with CNN's David Axelrod Thursday that the companies behind vaccines told him they "would have doses to the tunes of tens of millions early in the year, and up to hundreds of millions as we get well into 2021."
“The timetable you suggested of getting into 2021, well into the year, then I can think with a successful vaccine — if we could vaccinate the overwhelming majority of the population — we could start talking about real normality again,” Fauci said. “But it is going to be a gradual process.”
Fauci made the remarks ahead of next week's launch of an unprecedented effort by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to find a vaccine, dubbed "Operation Warp Speed." The operation aims to deliver 300 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by January 2021.
Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, told CBS News the launch of a phase three trial with Moderna and the NIH is expected on Monday. The aim is to enroll 30,000 people.
“I have never seen anything come together this way, as we have tried to do and are now doing, for the development of vaccines. And the government, by providing additional resources, has also made it possible now to plan manufacturing of vaccine doses even before you know if the vaccine is going to work,” Collins said.
Fauci also talked about his sometimes contentious relationship with President Trump, as he has publicly disagreed with Mr. Trump's rosier assessment of the coronavirus crisis. Fauci said he had "quite a good relationship with the president," even though the White House has previously sought to discredit him.
Fauci said he was receiving "hate mail and serious threats," which had led him to be assigned personal security.
"As much as people inappropriately, I think, make me somewhat of a hero - and I'm not a hero, I'm just doing my job - there are people who get really angry at thinking I'm interfering with their life because I'm pushing a public-health agenda," Fauci said.