One of the new coronavirus variants that’s rapidly spreading in the US is both more contagious and likely more deadly as well, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday.
The spread of the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK means vaccination is more important than ever, as are measures such as mask use and social distancing, Fauci said during a White House briefing.
It was first spotted in Colorado at the end of December, said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Since then it has been detected in 50 jurisdictions in the United States, and likely accounts now for about 20 to 30% of the infections in this country. And that number is growing."
“Of concern is that there are about 50% increase in transmission with this particular variant that has been documented in the UK and there's likely an increase in severity of disease if infected with this variant,” added Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden.
“In a couple of UK studies, this one looking at over 54,000 matched pairs of participants in the UK in which one person was infected with the B.1.1.7 and another one with the previously circulating variant, there was a 64% increased risk of death for those with the B.1.1.7,” Fauci told the briefing. He showed a second study that indicated a 61% higher risk of death with B.1.1.7.
But vaccines appear to protect well against B.1.1.7 and treatments such as monoclonal antibodies also appear to work against this particular variant, Fauci noted.
“The way we can counter 1.1.7, which is a growing threat in our country, is to do two things: To get as many people vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible with the vaccine that we know works against this variant and, finally, to implement the public health measures that we talk about all the time and that was on Dr. [Rochelle] Walensky's slide — masking, physical distancing, and avoiding congregant settings, particularly indoors,” he said.