Andy Slavitt, at his home in Edina, MN, September 17, 2020.

Shari L. Gross | Star Tribune | Getty Images

President Joe Biden’s prediction that the United States could return to some semblance of normalcy by Christmas is “a reasonable answer,” a senior adviser to the president’s Covid-19 response team said Thursday.

Speaking at a CNN town hall on Tuesday, Biden said the US will be “under very different circumstances, God willing” until Christmas. “In a year I think there will be far fewer people who have to be socially distant and have to wear a mask,” he added. “I don’t want to promise too much here.”

White House Covid Advisor Andy Slavitt said he was reluctant to give a timetable for when things could get back to normal, warning that there are still many unknowns. The biggest problems that could undermine efforts to contain the virus are new, emerging variants, as well as the hesitation of the vaccine in the US and elsewhere.

“We don’t know much about the future,” Slavitt said during a virtual interview with Jonathan Capehart, the Washington Post opinion writer. “We try not to convey a false sense of security or a false sense of precision when there isn’t one. And I know that it makes people feel less comfortable, but I also know that people want to be on an equal footing with them and that they are the truth should be told. “”

Slavitt’s comment comes as U.S. health officials including White House medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, urging Americans to get vaccinated as soon as possible before potentially new and even more dangerous variants of the virus emerge.

As of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had identified 1,277 cases of variant B.1.1.7, first identified in the UK. The agency has identified 19 cases of the B.1.351 strain from South Africa and three cases of P .1, a variant first identified in Brazil.

The US must deploy Covid-19 vaccines quickly and speed up the genetic sequencing of variants before the virus can mutate again and worsen the pandemic, wrote CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a research opinion published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA.

Around 40 million out of around 331 million Americans have received at least their first dose of Pfizer’s or Moderna’s two-dose Covid-19 vaccines, according to the CDC. And 15.4 million of those people have already got their second shot. According to Fauci, the goal is to vaccinate between 70% and 85% of the US population – or around 232 to 281 million people – to achieve herd immunity and suppress the pandemic.

On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced that the Biden administration is increasing the number of Covid-19 vaccine doses sent weekly to states, sending 13.5 million shots this week and doubling the number of pharmacies sold to pharmacies.

Slavitt said Thursday that Pfizer, Moderna, and other drug makers told the Biden government that they plan to update their vaccines to protect against the new variants.

He also said that there are still many Americans who are “curious about the vaccine” or hesitant, waiting for others to take it first. He urged people who are not sure about getting a vaccine to speak to people in the ward they trust, including doctors and church leaders.

“We believe that more and more people will come,” he said.