As the United States nears 500,000 COVID-19 deaths, Dr. Anthony Fauci told "Good Morning America" on Monday that the U.S. has "done worse than most any other country" in the battle against the coronavirus, despite being a "highly developed, rich country."
"It's so tough to just go back and try and, you know, do a metaphorical autopsy on how things went. It was just bad. It is bad now," Fauci told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.
The U.S. has by far the highest death toll, with at least 498,901 lives lost, followed by Brazil with 246,504 fatalities, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. is expected to reach the grim 500,000 death milestone on Monday, which Fauci called a "stunning figure."
One in every 656 Americans has now succumbed to the virus. With 525,600 minutes in one year, 500,000 deaths is equivalent to approximately one American dying from COVID-19 per minute for almost an entire year.
In the late winter and early spring of 2020, health officials "were saying we could get as high as 240,000 [deaths] and people were thinking we were being hyperbolic," Fauci noted.
"Rather than looking back and saying, 'What the heck happened here?'" Fauci said, he urged Americans to "be completely committed as a unified country to just go at this together."
"This is a common enemy. We've all got to pitch in," Fauci said. "We're in some good shape now with the vaccines, but it's going to be a race against the infections that keep coming."
In total, 13% of the population (42.8 million people) has received one or more vaccine doses while 5% of the population (17.9 million people) has received two doses, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Fauci rejected the thinking in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal by Johns Hopkins medical school professor Dr. Marty Makary, who wrote that he thinks the U.S. will reach herd immunity by April.
"We got to be really careful and not just say, 'We're finished now, we're through it,'" Fauci said. "We have variants out there that could actually set us back."
Fauci acknowledged that vaccines are working against the current variants, but said the virus could bounce back at any time if new strains pop up or get out of control.
"Rather than even think about declaring victory and saying, 'Well, we have herd immunity, we're in good shape,' we've got to keep pushing and pushing because this thing can bounce back with the variants very, very quickly," Fauci said.
ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos contributed to this report.