As many Americans as possible should be vaccinated against COVID-19, and emerging variants of the virus are of serious concern, warned Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, on Thursday. “I think it potentially could get worse,” said Fauci about the U.S. coronavirus pandemic on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “We certainly are seeing a thankfully a plateauing in cases … That’s the good news, but superimposed upon the good news is the sobering news that we still have a lot of cases, and we still have a very serious issue here. And the thing that’s troublesome now that we really need to keep our eye on, are these variants.” Read on for more of his warning—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.
New Variants are More Transmissible, He Warns
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25.4 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the US since the pandemic began, and more than 427,000 people have died. The seven-day moving average of cases has declined steadily since mid-January, but the number of daily deaths has consistently been over 3,000.
Although the rollout has been slow and well below projections, more than 21 million people have received at least one dose of a two-shot COVID-19 vaccine since two options became available last month.
At the same time, several variants of the COVID-19 virus—originating in places such as the UK, South Africa and Brazil—have begun to make inroads within the US. The variants are believed to be more transmissible than the original strain of COVID-19. Some may be more deadly. All may be less responsive to the two currently approved vaccines, although experts don’t know to what extent.
“We have to be prepared for” difficult times
“Fortunately, the vaccine that we are distributing now, both in the test tube—when you look at the antibodies that it induces—looks very much like it could contain” the UK variant of the virus, said Fauci. That mutation has been identified in at least 26 states.
“The one that is of greater concern, and that really could be problematic, is the mutation that is now dominant in South Africa,” he continued. “Because if you look at the response of things like monoclonal antibodies, or even the vaccine itself, the impact of those antibodies or the vaccine is markedly diminished in the test tube. Now, is that going to be reflective of a diminished efficacy? That very well could be, which is triggering what we’re doing right now.
“A) we want as many people to get vaccinated as we possibly can, as quickly as we can, because the more you get vaccinated, you give the virus less of a chance to evolve into a mutant form that you then would have more trouble with,” added Fauci. “And the other thing we’re doing, that I think is equally as important, is we’re already … making a modified version of the vaccine that would ultimately be able to be directed specifically against the South African isolate, which is the most problematic of them all. So on the one hand, things looking a bit better about plateauing, but on the other hand, we can have some difficult times that we have to be prepared for.”
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How to survive this pandemic
As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.