As new mutated strains of the virus that causes COVID-19 continue to spring up around the world, the medical community is working tirelessly to understand the different threats each could present. Hours after the first case of the Brazilian strain was identified in Minnesota, Anthony Fauci, MD, chief medical officer for COVID-19 to President Joe Biden, revealed what he called “sobering news” about the fight against this latest COVID strain that’s now on U.S. soil. Read on to see why he is so concerned about this development and what can be done to stay safe. And for more on how a brush with the coronavirus might play out for you, check out This One Thing Could Determine If Your COVID Case Will Be Severe or Mild.
Fauci warned that the Brazilian strain could become “more and more dominant.”
During an on-air interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett on Jan. 25, Fauci discussed the recent discovery of the highly contagious Brazilian COVID strain known as P.1 in the U.S. “If it has the capability of spreading more efficiently, likely it might actually get more and more dominant,” he said. “But we have to wait and see, because we have a couple situations.” And for more on where the U.K. strain is spreading, find out How Many Cases of the New Strain Are in Your State.
He said that more sequencing needs to be done to stay on top of mutations.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director explained that there are multiple mutations of concern at the moment. “You know, we have a California mutant that was recognized in California that’s different than the Brazil one that seems to be more efficient in spreading,” Fauci said.
The arrival of these new strains means there’s more to be done by local and national health officials in terms of using sequencing to see how the virus is mutating. “You have to keep your eye on all of these things. And with regard to genomic surveillance, we’re really ratcheting that up a fair amount,” Fauci said. “Up until recently, we haven’t had a comprehensive genomic surveillance, which the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is really increasing with a little bit of collaboration—in fact, a lot of collaboration with the NIH [National Institutes of Health], that will get a much better feel for what is circulating in our own country.” And for more regular COVID updates sent right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
More spread will lead to more variants.
“The sobering news is that as you get more and more replication, you can get more and more evolution of mutants, which means you always have to be a step ahead of it,” Fauci said.
He then emphasized that vaccines are the key to keeping the virus from mutating. “I think people need to understand: the best way you prevent the evolution of mutants is to suppress the amount of virus that is circulating in the population and the best way to do that is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as you possibly can,” Fauci said. And for more ways you can keep yourself safe, avoid The One Type of Face Mask the Mayo Clinic Calls “Unacceptable.”
These mutations can make it harder to treat the virus.
Fauci went on to explain that the arrival of the Brazilian strain—as well as the threat of the similarly dangerous South African strain known as 501Y.V2—presented new challenges to health officials. In an earlier discussion with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Fauci said that antibody treatments work against a “very specific component of the virus,” known as the spike protein. The Brazilian and South African strains have medical experts concerned because they have more mutations to the spike protein, which is both where the virus enters the body’s cells and also where vaccines and treatments are targeted. “As I [previously] mentioned, the South African and the Brazilian variants are a bit more ominous because some of the monoclonal antibodies—those proteins we have been using for treatment—several of them are blocked in the sense of the mutant, they do not do very well against the mutant,” he told CNN.
But Fauci remained optimistic about the vaccine. “The good news is the vaccines as they exist now still would be effective against the mutants,” he said. “When you put the vaccine-induced antibodies, it’s diminished when you’re dealing with South Africa and Brazil… [but] it’s still within the cushion range of being an effective vaccine.” And for more recent COVID news, check out If You Have This in Your Blood, You May Be Safe From COVID, Study Says.