US officials caution more data needed on UK coronavirus strain
National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins and top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci warned on Saturday that more data is needed to understand if the UK coronavirus strain is more deadly and more contagious.
“These are serious situations that we are following very closely,” Fauci said in an interview on MSNBC. “If necessary, we will adapt to it,”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Friday that there is evidence the U.K. strain of the coronavirus spreads more quickly and has higher mortality rates.
Collins said that it is not clear why the U.K. strain would be more deadly or more contagious since the data is only preliminary, Thomson Reuters Foundation reported. The change could be from the virus or from external sources such as troubles in the health care system.
“Let’s take this as something to watch closely,” Fauci said, adding that there is no evidence the current vaccine being distributed in the U.S. won’t work to protect people from the U.K. strain.
The U.K. strain is confirmed to be in at least 10 states in the U.S. The strain could become the dominant one by March, as it has proved to be twice as contagious as the current dominant strain in the U.S.
There is more concern over the South African strain of the virus due to how it could affect the efficacy of the vaccine being distributed. There are currently no reported cases of the South African strain in the U.S.
“We are somewhat more concerned about a South African variant,” Collins said.
Fauci said it is a bit more “ominous for the South African isolate because the mutations there” make it so the vaccine isn’t as effective. However, he also said it is still “within the framework” of the vaccines in the U.S. and that the vaccines provide protection against the strain. The vaccine can be modified if needed, he commented.
The U.S. has been hit hard by the coronavirus, with more than 400,000 deaths. Measures to fight the virus, including testing for international travelers, are being implemented on Jan. 26.