News and Commentary

Fauci Says It’s Likely South African Strain Already In U.S., Not Concerned About Vaccine Protection
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Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that it’s likely the new strain of the novel coronavirus prevalent in South Africa has already made its way to the United States. The strain is reportedly more contagious but not more deadly. Newsweek reported:

Top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci has told Newsweek he would be “surprised” if a new, more infectious strain of COVID from South Africa had not arrived in the U.S., even though it has not yet been detected.

The leading infectious disease doctor is not too concerned about vaccination protection, however. If the vaccine currently being distributed and enabled by President Donald Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” does not already provide immunity to the strain, the vaccination could easily be modified to provide the necessary protection, a process that would likely take a matter of months or even weeks.

“Fauci said mRNA vaccines, such as Pfizer and Moderna’s, are ‘very flexible’ and it would be ‘relatively easy to make the modifications in the vaccine were that necessary,'” Newsweek reported Tuesday. The process would take a “couple of months,” according to Fauci.

“It does not yet seem to have a negative impact on the vaccine,” Dr. Fauci said. “But it’s important to continue to follow that in case things change.”

The doctor noted that “most mutations are ‘meaningless’ and do not change how the virus functions,” the report added.

“Similar to the U.K. mutation and the South African mutation, every once in a while you get a mutation that does have clinical significance,” Fauci said. “And that’s the reason why you need to continually monitor these changes to make sure if that occurs that you detect it and you’re aware of it.”

Professor Shabir Madhi, who has led trials for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in South Africa, told the BBC “it was ‘unlikely’ that the mutation in South Africa would make the current vaccines useless, but might ‘weaken the impact.'”

“Fortunately, should further modifications of the vaccine be required to address the new variants, some of the vaccine technologies under development could allow this to be done relatively rapidly,” commented vaccine expert Professor Helen Rees of Wits University.

The BBC reported noted: “South Africa recently pushed back against suggestions from the British government that its variant was more transmissible than the one in the UK. Scientists insist there is no evidence of that, nor that the mutations here have made the virus deadlier.”

Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Monday that he was concerned with new strains of the virus since they are more transmissible.

“I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant, and that’s why we took the action that we did to restrict all flights from South Africa,” Hancock told the BBC, CNBC News reported Monday.

“This is a very, very significant problem … and it’s even more of a problem than the U.K. new variant,” the health secretary added.

“Experts note that while the new variant spreads more easily, it does not appear to make it deadlier,” CNBC noted. “Nonetheless, the U.K.’s hospitals are under pressure from a dramatic rise in infections and admissions.”

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