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More infectious COVID-19 variant in at least five U.S. states – NIH Director

Senate panel holds hearing on COVID-19 vaccines, in Washington

(Reuters) -A more contagious variant of COVID-19 that has swept through the United Kingdom has been reported in at least five states in the U.S., National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said in an interview to the Washington Post on Wednesday.

“We have now seen that same UK virus in the U.S. in at least five states and I would be surprised if that doesn’t grow pretty rapidly,” Collins said, adding that it doesn’t however seem to be more severe.

Last week, Reuters reported that Florida became the third known U.S. state to identify such a case, with two other cases identified in Colorado and California.

Scientists have said newly developed vaccines should be equally effective against both variants.

The NIH director said he expects immunizations to be done through pharmacies soon as the country grapples with a surge in cases, with the number of vaccinations falling far short of early targets.

He said in the interview at least 80%-85% of Americans should receive the vaccine to reach “herd immunity”. (https://bit.ly/3opexFt)

The leading U.S. infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said in a separate interview it was not clear what percentage of the population needs to be vaccinated for herd immunity.

“I had originally said 70%, now based on my guesstimate, it’s probably somewhere between 70%-85%,” Fauci said in an interview to the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

“We need to get enough people vaccinated so the dynamics of the outbreak dramatically diminish,” he added. “I don’t think that’s going to happen until the end of summer or beginning of fall, if we do it correctly.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had administered more than 4.8 million first doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country as of Tuesday morning and distributed more than 17 million doses.

(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Shounak Dasgupta)

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