Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said at a Jan. 21 press briefing that, while new mutations of the CCP virus are far more transmissible than the original variants, vaccines can reduce their spread and impact their ability to mutate.
Ramping up COVID-19 vaccinations will not only help stop the virus from spreading, but they will also reduce the disease’s ability to mutate into new variants, Fauci said.
“Viruses don’t mutate unless they replicate,” he said, adding that, “if you can suppress that by a very good vaccine campaign, then you could actually avoid this deleterious effect that you might get from the mutations.”
While the United States may be seeing a “plateauing” in its COVID-19 infection numbers, new virus mutations are a cause for concern, Fauci said.
“Right now, it looks like it might actually be plateauing in the sense of turning around,” Fauci said, although he cautioned that the drop in the 7-day rolling average of new cases may, in fact, be “an artifact of the slowing down following the holidays” and more time is needed to verify the trend.
Fauci also confirmed that the UK variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, dubbed B.1.1.7 by scientists, “is here for sure.”
“I think it’s in at least 20 states,” he said, adding that “the real question that’s going to be asked—is it going to become the dominant strain?”
He noted that B.1.1.7 is more transmissible, although it does not appear to be more deadly.
“The one that is in the UK appears to have a greater degree of transmissibility—about twice as much as what we call the ‘wild type’ original virus,” he said.
The mutation, which is a normal phenomenon in coronaviruses, “doesn’t seem to make the virus more virulent or have a greater chance of making you seriously ill or killing you,” Fauci said. At the same time, while the new mutation does not appear to be more lethal, Fauci said that with greater transmissibility, there are bound to be more cases, more hospitalizations, and “you’re ultimately going to get more death.”
“So even though the virus, on a one-to-one basis, isn’t more serious, the phenomenon of a more transmissible virus is something that you take seriously,” he said.
Addressing the issue of how impactful the currently available vaccines are against the new virus variants, Fauci said they will probably prove to be less effective.
“What we likely will be seeing a diminution in the efficacy of the vaccine—more in South Africa than UK,” he said, referring to another mutation that has been observed, one that was first identified in South Africa, which scientists have dubbed 501.V2.
The South African variant, which Fauci said is similar to yet another mutation first identified in Brazil, is having an impact on the monoclonal antibodies used to treat COVID-19. With this variant, “vaccine effectiveness is diminished but still effective,” Fauci added.
Fauci said that if enough people get vaccinated by the end of summer, things could get back to “a degree of normality” by the fall.
“If we get the majority of Americans—70 to 85 percent—vaccinated by then, we could have a degree of herd immunity that would get us back to normal,” he said.
A concern of his is reluctance among the public to get the COVID-19 vaccine, “because many people are skeptical.”
“So we really need to do a lot of good outreach for that,” he said.
Reluctance to get inoculated, known as vaccine hesitancy, has dropped, with a recent poll showing that the percentage of Americans saying they’re willing to get the COVID-19 shot now stands at 71 percent, up from 63 percent in September.
But about a quarter of the public remains vaccine hesitant, with 27 percent saying they probably or definitely would not get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The biggest worry people have about the COVID-19 vaccines, which were developed in record time, are side effects. Another big reason for vaccine hesitancy is the lack of trust in the government to ensure their safety and effectiveness, while many said the COVID-19 vaccine is simply too new for them to have confidence in it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said COVID-19 vaccines can cause side effects for a few days that include fever, chills, headache, swelling, or tiredness. The CDC says the effects are normal and a sign that the body is building protection.
Around 37.9 million doses of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s two-dose vaccines have been distributed in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with under 17.5 million doses administered as of Jan. 21.