A new, more contagious variant of coronavirus first seen in the UK is likely to fuel a surge of cases in the US in spring, several experts predicted Tuesday. They say the best way to get out ahead of it is to vaccinate as many people as possible.
The variant called B.1.1.7 was suspected of causing renewed spread in Britain and it’s been seen across much of the US – more than 1,880 cases in 45 states, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But those are only the cases detected by sequencing, which falls short in the US, said virus expert Trevor Bedford of the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
“It’s going to increase in the spring. It could result in more of a wave in, say, April or May than we would have expected otherwise. But I still do suspect that things will be brought under control in the summer, and there will be very little virus circulating,” Bedford told a briefing sponsored by the cancer center.
Vaccination efforts and mitigation efforts such as mask use and continued social distancing will help bring spread under control, Bedford said, adding, it’s possible, a new surge could begin in the fall.
Dr. Josh Schiffer, an infectious diseases specialist at Fred Hutch who has been modeling patterns of spread, agreed. “I think with the newly infectious variants, I think it is going to be difficult to prevent a fourth wave altogether,” Schiffer said.
Vaccination will be the best way to slow any renewed surges, the experts said. “We do want a lot of vaccines and strong robust immunity from those vaccines,” Bedford said.
Dr. Larry Corey, a University of Washington vaccine expert who has been leading clinical trials of coronavirus vaccines, said the vaccines available so far appear to protect people from the variants. “The great thing to remember is that the vaccines appear to induce better immunity than natural infection. This is a major achievement,” Corey said.