US health officials believe the coronavirus mutation that set off alarms in parts of Britain is no more apt to cause serious illness or be resistant to vaccines than the strain afflicting people in the United States but it still must be taken "very seriously", the government''s top infectious disease expert said.
Dr Anthony Fauci endorsed the decision of US officials to require negative COVID-19 tests before letting people from Britain enter the US.
He declined to weigh in on whether that step should have been taken sooner.
He said the variant strain is something "to follow very carefully" and "we''re looking at it very intensively now".
"Does it make someone more ill? Is it more serious virus in the sense of virulence? And the answer is, it doesn''t appear to be that way," Fauci said.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
British officials are telling their US colleagues it appears that the vaccines being rolled out will be strong enough to deal with the new variant but, Fauci said, "we''re going to be doing the studies ourselves".
Fauci said the US is at a critical phase of the pandemic, with the worst probably still ahead.
He predicted the general population would be getting immunised widely by late March or early April -- beyond the frontline workers, older people and certain other segments of the public given priority for the vaccines.
Fauci spoke on CNN''s "State of the Union".