Dr. Anthony Fauci says a new, more contagious strain COVID-19 that has spread across the United Kingdom is likely already in the United States, but he added that the two vaccines now being distributed across the country should still be effective.
“When you see something that is pretty prevalent in a place like the U.K. — there are also mutations that we’re seeing in South Africa — and given the travel throughout the world, I would not be surprised if it is already here,” Fauci said Monday on “PBS NewsHour.”
“When we start to look for it, we’re going to find it,” he said, adding that “you have to make that assumption” that the new U.K. strain is already here. “Certainly, it is not yet the prevalent one, the way it seems to have assumed that prevalent nature in the UK,” said Fauci, an immunologist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who served on the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
“But we’re going to be looking for it right now, and I’m sure, sooner or later, we’re going to run into it and find it,” Fauci said.
Meanwhile, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School said the U.K. strain may not have originated there. “It may very well be here. It may have even started here. The sequencing in the US is so sporadic,” Jeremy Luban said, according to The Washington Post.
Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are looking into the new mutation of the coronavirus to find out if it could be resistant to new vaccines that are currently being distributed across America, according to a recent report.
Dr. Nelson Michael, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research at the institute, told CNN that right now, there’s no indication that the inoculations will be ineffective. “It stands to reason that this mutation isn’t a threat, but you never know. We still have to be diligent and continue to look,” Michael told the network on Sunday.
It’s also unclear if the morphed strain is more deadly or causes more severe symptoms.
The Walter Reed scientists on Thursday began studying the genetic sequences of the new strain, which was posted online by British researchers. The “analysis will allow us to gauge how much concern we should have. Other teams around the world are doing this analysis, too,” Michael told CNN.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Saturday, “There’s no evidence to suggest the vaccine will be any less effective against the new variant. Our experts will continue their work to improve our understanding as fast as we can.”
Viruses are always evolving in an attempt to keep spreading — and in many cases, the easier they are to catch, the less deadly they are. The flu, for instance, is constantly changing, which is why flu vaccines are altered every year, too.
In addition, new strains of COVID-19, which was first discovered in China, have been seen since the virus emerged approximately a year ago in Wuhan.
But the fact that the virus is changing, just as vaccines to target it are being distributed, has some concerned. “Health experts in the U.K. and U.S. said the strain seems to infect more easily than others, but there is no evidence yet it is more deadly,” The Associated Press reported Sunday.