Fauci says US ‘rushing’ to get data on new COVID-19 variant
Top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci said Friday that the U.S. is “rushing” to get data on the new COVID-19 variant, which was stoked alarm after being discovered in South Africa earlier this week.
Fauci said U.S. and South African scientists will have a meeting Friday to get more information about the new strain and the molecular makeup so the U.S. can test for the variant, called B.1.1529.
“Right now, we’re getting the material together with our South African colleagues to get a situation where you could actually directly test it. So, right now you’re talking about sort of like a red flag that this might be an issue — but we don’t know,” Fauci said in an interview on CNN.
Scientists say the variant has a larger number of mutations than previous strains, and it is not clear how effective the coronavirus vaccines will be against the variant.
“Once you test it, you’ll know for sure whether or not it does or does not evade the antibodies that we make — for example against the virus, through a vaccine,” Fauci said. “The answer is we don’t know right now, but we’re going to find out for sure.”
At least 10 countries have already banned travel from southern Africa as a precaution, though Fauci said the U.S. would obtain data before making any such decision.
“As soon as we find out more information, we’ll make a decision as quickly as we possibly can. You always put these things on the table, but you don’t want to say you’re going to do it until you have some scientific reason to do it. That’s the reason why we’re rushing now to get that scientific data to try and make an informed decision,” Fauci said.
“You want to find out if in fact it does evade the vaccines that we’re doing,” Fauci added. “You’re prepared to do everything you need to do to protect the American public, but you want to make sure there’s a basis for doing that.”
The variant was discovered in South Africa and has since been reported in Israel, Hong Kong, Botswana and Belgium.
While the variant is spreading at “a reasonably rapid rate,” Fauci said the U.S. has “no indication” the variant is in the country.
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