The Covid-19 variant first identified in the UK is spreading in the US and could become dominant as the country races to administer vaccines, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday.
“It seems to be very efficient in spreading from person to person,” the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, adding that recent studies show that it could be more deadly and cause more severe illness.
Of the more than 26.6 million cases of coronavirus that have been recorded in the US according to data from Johns Hopkins University, there have been at least 618 variant cases across 33 states so far, according the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The emergence of these virus mutations — first detected in the United Kingdom (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1), respectively — could mean another surge in cases, according to Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
The UK variant is already on track to becoming dominant in hotspots like Florida and Southern California “within a few weeks,” according to a testing company called Helix that has helped identify the largest share of US cases.
The only way to prevent the variants from becoming dominant is to prevent them from spreading from person to person by following public health measures and getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, Fauci said.
Fauci tweeted Thursday his hopes that data will support coronavirus vaccinations for older children by late spring or early summer.
And the US Food and Drug Administration said Thursday it plans to use the process for updating flu vaccines as a template for authorizing any changes to coronavirus shots to address the emergence of new variants.
“We have a possibility, and the capability, of trying to stop them from becoming dominant,” Fauci said.
New vaccines hope to ease the burden if approved
How quickly the variants spread versus the speed of vaccinations will be a key factor in the amount of coronavirus deaths over the coming months, according to the latest forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
Depending on the balance, up to another 190,000 people could die between now and June 1, bringing the death toll total from 455,733 on Thursday to more than 630,000.
New coronavirus vaccines added to the market could help speed up the inoculation process.
The biotechnology company Novavax announced on Thursday that the “rolling review” process for authorization of its Covid-19 vaccine is underway in multiple countries.
The vaccine maker announced that it has started the process with several regulatory agencies, including the US FDA, the European Medicines Agency, UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and Health Canada. Rolling review means that the company will submit some completed sections of its application for authorization instead of waiting until the entire application is finished.
And Johnson & Johnson officially asked the FDA for an emergency use authorization of its Covid-19 vaccine Thursday.
The company has been developing a single-shot vaccine it says could help reduce “the burden of disease for people globally and putting an end to the pandemic,” Dr. Paul Stoffels, Chief Scientific Officer at Johnson & Johnson, said in a statement.
The FDA will schedule a public meeting, and if the agency decides to authorize the vaccine, the CDC Committee on Immunization Practices will meet to discuss whether the vaccine should be given to Americans and if so, who should get it first.
The push to vaccinate teachers and return to the classroom
As some students approach nearly a year since they have stepped foot in their classrooms, officials have been eager to see a return to in-person learning.
CDC director Rochelle Walensky has said that with the proper distancing, masking and testing in place, schools can safely resume on campus even before teachers are vaccinated. But many states are making the inoculation of teachers a priority.
So far, 24 states and Washington, DC are now allowing some teachers or school staff to receive the vaccine.
In West Virginia, all teachers over 50-years-old who expressed that they wanted the vaccine already have received it, according to Gov. Jim Justice. In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine has set a plan to have all teachers vaccinated by the end of February, with the goal of all students returning to classrooms by March 1.
Alabama and Colorado will include teachers among those who can be vaccinated starting on Monday.
But the availability of doses still poses an issue in many states as officials have complained that their allotment of doses is not meeting the demand.
In some cities, like Chicago and Minneapolis, officials are at odds with teachers unions and schools as their push to reopen is met with a concern for the safety of staff, students and families. In some cases, the tensions have boiled over into lawsuits and threats of strikes.
Fauci promotes two vaccine doses for those previously infected
Separately, Fauci said Thursday that even those who have already had Covid-19 should still be vaccinated.
“If you had Covid-19, you should still get vaccinated. Because re-infection is uncommon 90 days after initial infection, you can delay vaccination until the end of that 90-day period, if desired. But vaccination is still safe after you’ve recovered from Covid-19,” he said in a tweet.
Though a study earlier in the week suggested that people who were previously infected with coronavirus may only need one shot of Covid-19 vaccines, Fauci pushed back.
The authors of this preprint study, which has not been peer reviewed, argued that changing policy to give these individuals only one dose would “spare them from unnecessary pain and free up many urgently needed vaccine doses.”
A previous infection may help boot vaccination, Fauci tweeted, but there is not enough evidence yet to show it is sufficient to compare to two doses for most people.
“People who had COVID-19 should still follow the current @FDA guidance,” he said.