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Surgeon general nominee says more contagious viral strain in UK does not appear to be deadlier

Former Surgeon General Vivek MurthyVivek MurthyCDC panel authorizes COVID-19 vaccine boosters for high-risk people, those over 65 FDA authorizes Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot for older and high-risk Americans GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' MORE, whom President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe House passes sweeping defense policy bill MORE has nominated to return to the position, said Sunday that a new, more contagious coronavirus strain reported in the U.K. does not appear to be any deadlier.

“This news from the U.K. appears to be about a new strain of the virus that’s more transmissible, more contagious than the virus we’ve seen prior to this,” Murthy said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “While it seems to be more transmissible, we do not have evidence yet that this is a more deadly virus to an individual who acquires it.”

He added that there is also no evidence coronavirus vaccines would be any less effective against the new strain.

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“The bottom line is if you're at home and you're hearing this news, it does not change what we do in terms of precautions as individuals that can reduce the spread of this virus,” he added. “It turns out that masking, that keeping physical distance, washing our hands - these are still the pillars of preventing COVID transmission.”

NBC’s Chuck ToddCharles (Chuck) David ToddThe press ever-so-politely turns on Biden, as troubles mount NBC's Chuck Todd: Biden currently battling 'pretty big credibility crisis' 'Highest priority' is to vaccinate the unvaccinated, Fauci says MORE asked Murthy if he agreed with assessments that the vaccine would be rolled out to the general population by spring. The first dosages are being prioritized for frontline health-care workers, higher-risk groups and the elderly.

“I think when it comes to the vaccine timeline, we all want the vaccine to be delivered as quickly [and] as fairly as possible,” Murthy replied. “But we also want to be realistic about the timeline. I think that if everything goes well, we may see a circumstance where, by late spring, people who are in lower-risk categories can get this vaccine, but that would really require everything to go exactly on schedule.”

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Murthy went on to say a timeline in which the vaccine is widely available in mid-summer or early in the fall may be more realistic.

“We want to be optimistic but we want to be cautious as well,” he added.