(Reuters) – The best defense against emerging variants of the coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic is getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, top U.S. infectious disease doctor Anthony Fauci said on Monday.
Nearly 700 cases associated with coronavirus variants have been identified in the United States, U.S. officials said on a press call. Of them, 690 cases are from a more transmissible variant first discovered in the United Kingdom called B.1.1.7, which could become the dominant variant in the United States by March, the officials said.
The United States has not been testing widely for variants, so the actual number is likely higher than official figures. All viruses mutate, but scientists are worried about changes in the virus that make it more transmissible or more deadly.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that while it is reasonable to study Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines for a one-dose regime, given supply constraints, such a study would take months to complete and thus likely make its conclusions moot.
Fauci continued to encourage people get two doses of the vaccines.
The optimal “approach would be to continue with getting as many people on their first dose as possible but also making sure that people on time get their second dose,” Fauci said.
Over 17 million vaccine doses have so far been given to people over 65, Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House’s COVID-19 response team, said on the call. More than 41 million vaccine doses have been administered to more than 31 million Americans, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data posted Sunday.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky advised people to continue wearing masks and that states not relax mask-wearing rules. The Biden Administration has asked Americans to wear masks for its first hundred days.
(Reporting by Rebecca Spalding and Carl O’Donnell in New york, Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Franklin Paul and Dan Grebler)