Story at a glance

  • Michael Osterholm said the U.S. may need to focus on getting the first dose of vaccine in the arms of as many people as possible ahead of a coming surge of infections.
  • “That hurricane is coming. So I think we have to understand that because of this surge, we do have to call audible,” he said.
  • He said a surge of infections due to the new variant from England will occur in the next six to 14 weeks.

A top epidemiologist is warning a surge of coronavirus infections is likely to hit the U.S. in the coming weeks due to the spread of the more contagious COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom. 

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and a member of President Biden’s transition team, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” the U.S. may need to shift its vaccine strategy and focus on administering the first dose of the vaccine to as many people as possible instead of trying to get people their second dose. 


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“We do have to call an audible. I think there’s no doubt about it. The fact is that the surge that is likely to occur with this new variant from England is going to happen in the next six to 14 weeks, and if we see that happen, which my 45 years in the trenches tells we will, we are going to see something like we have not seen yet in this country,” Osterholm said Sunday. 

“That hurricane is coming. So I think we have to understand that because of this surge, we do have to call audible,” he said. 

Osterholm said while the U.S. should still aim to get two doses in everyone, the focus should be to get first doses in as many people over the age of 65 as possible in advance of the coming surge to reduce serious illness and death. 

The U.K. variant, dubbed B.1.1.7, was first identified in the U.S. in late December but is thought to have been around as early as October. It’s soon expected to become the dominant strain of virus in the U.S. 

While the strain has shown to be significantly more infectious and may cause more serious illness, the current vaccines being distributed seem to be effective in combating the variant. 

Other highly contagious variants recently discovered in the U.S., one first identified in South Africa and another in Brazil, have health experts concerned about whether existing vaccines will provide adequate protection. 


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Published on Feb 01, 2021