Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that the UK COVID-19 variant discovered late last year could “cause more damage,” than previously thought, citing preliminary data from the British government.
“We need to assume now what has been circulating in the UK does have an increase in virulence, meaning the power of the virus to cause more damage, including death,” Fauci said during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
The new CCP virus variant, known as B.1.1.7, is believed to be more contagious and has been found in at least 22 U.S. states so far, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. The variant of the virus was first found in the UK in September 2020 before scientists sounded the alarm about it being more infectious.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a press briefing on Jan. 22 that with the original COVID-19, 10 out of roughly 1,000 people aged 60 or older would be estimated to die. But with the new B.1.1.7 variant, 13 or 14 people out of 1,000 aged 60 or older would be estimated to die.
Johnson said that the COVID-19 variant could be associated with a higher mortality rate. However, he and UK health officials have stressed there are some uncertainties around those figures.
“When the British investigators looked more closely at the death rate of a certain age group, they found that it was one per thousand … and then it went up to 1.3 per thousand in a certain group,” Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told host Margaret Brennan.
“That’s a significant increase. So the most recent data is in accord with what the Brits are saying. We want to look at the data ourselves, but we have every reason to believe them. They’re a very competent group.”
According to the latest CDC data, California has reported the highest number of cases of the UK B.1.1.7 variant, 72, followed by Florida with 50 cases, and New York with 22 cases.
The variant was first reported by state authorities in a rural area in Colorado, hours away from Denver. Officials said in December—when it was found—that the patient hadn’t traveled recently.
Federal health officials have previously warned that models show that the B.1.1.7 variant of the virus has the potential to increase “the U.S. pandemic trajectory in the coming months” and “warrants universal and increased compliance with mitigation strategies, including distancing and masking.”
As a result, “our community is bearing the brunt of the winter surge, experiencing huge numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths—five-times what we experienced over the summer,” Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County public health director, said on Jan. 16.
The new B.1.1.7 variant is projected by the CDC to become the dominant COVID-19 variant by March.
Fauci added Sunday that the COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States appear to be effective against the UK variant but said there may be a “very minor diminution” in protection.
“The vaccine induced antibodies, namely the vaccines that some of us have gotten and that we’re rolling out, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, seem to continue to be protective against the mutant strain,” he said. “It is a very minor diminution but the cushion that you have of efficacy is so large that it’s not going to negatively impact.”
Jack Phillips contributed to this report.