Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday January 30, 2021
Fauci calls South Africa-based variant’s resilience a ‘wake-up call.’
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci warned Friday that new clinical trial results from Johnson & Johnson, showing that its vaccine is less effective against a highly infectious variant of the coronavirus circulating in South Africa, were a “wake-up call.” He said the virus will continue to mutate, and vaccine manufacturers will have to be “nimble to be able to adjust readily” to reformulating the vaccines if needed.
Dr. Fauci’s warning, at the White House briefing on the virus, comes amid increasing concern about new and more infectious variants of the virus that are emerging overseas and turning up in the United States. This week, officials in South Carolina reported identifying two cases of the variant circulating in South Africa, and officials in Minnesota announced they had found a case of the variant that was first detected in Brazil.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who was also at the briefing, said another variant, first identified in Britain, has now been confirmed in 379 cases in 29 states.
She said officials remained concerned about the variants and were “rapidly ramping up surveillance and sequencing activities” to closely monitor them. Unlike Britain, the United States has been conducting little of the genomic sequencing necessary to track the spread of the variants.
Dr. Walensky also issued a plea to Americans to continue wearing masks and practice social distancing, and to avoid travel. Earlier this month, the C.D.C. warned that the variant circulating in Britain could become the dominant source of infection in the United States and would likely lead to a surge in cases and deaths that could overwhelm hospitals. And given the speed at which the variant swept through that country, it is conceivable that by April it could make up a large fraction of infections in the United States.
“By the time someone has symptoms, gets a test, has a positive result and we get the sequence, our opportunity for doing real case control and contact tracing is largely gone,” she said. “We should be treating every case as if it’s a variant during this pandemic right now.”
Friday’s briefing, the second in what the Biden White House has promised will be thrice-weekly updates on the pandemic, came just hours after Johnson & Johnson reported that while its vaccine was 72 percent effective in the United States, the efficacy rate was just 57 percent in South Africa, where a variant has been spreading. (New York Times)