Even though new strains of the coronavirus have dented some vaccines’ effectiveness, existing vaccines can still prevent serious illness and slow the virus’ spread, White House medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday, responding to fears that the coronavirus will become more contagious and less susceptible to vaccines as it mutates.
- At a White House briefing, Fauci acknowledged vaccines seem to be less effective against a rapidly spreading coronavirus variant first discovered in South Africa, but they still offer strong protection against a variant identified in the United Kingdom (both variants, which appear to make the virus more contagious, have reached theUnited States).
- Even if they’re less effective against the South Africa variant, Fauci said, vaccines are still worth getting because they make infections less serious: They “profoundly” reduce the rates of serious disease, hospitalization and death.
- Fauci also said if people are vaccinated en masse, the virus will replicate less and have fewer opportunities to mutate, meaning new variants will eventually stop emerging.
“Even when you have a variant circulating in which you may not have a 95% efficacy to prevent infection, it is very important that you might very very positively prevent serious illness and serious disease,” Fauci said. “You need to get vaccinated when it becomes available, as quickly and as expeditiously as possible throughout the country.”
Public health experts are optimistic about the pace of coronavirus vaccine research: Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines appeared to be more than 90% effective when they were approved in the United States last year, and drugmakers Novavax, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are also working on effective candidates. However, as highly contagious new strains of the coronavirus rapidly tear through the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil and spread to dozens of other countries, researchers have begun worrying existing vaccines could become less effective. There’s evidence that vaccines made by Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax and Johnson & Johnson offer somewhat less protection against the South Africa strain.
25.2 million. That’s the total number of Americans who received at least one dose of Pfizer or Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine as of Sunday, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Friday, Johnson & Johnson became the latest company to report data from a coronavirus vaccine trial. The company’s vaccine was 66% effective at preventing moderate and severe disease, making it less effective than some other vaccine candidates, but Fauci says the drug could still be a useful part of the world’s vaccine arsenal. The drug prevented hospitalizations and deaths among trial participants, and unlike other vaccines, it doesn’t need to be frozen and only requires one shot, Fauci noted Monday.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Johnson & Johnson says it plans on applying for emergency use authorization in the United States this month, possibly making it the third vaccine to reach American patients’ arms. AstraZeneca and Novavax expect to ask U.S. regulators for authorization in the coming months. Meanwhile, Novavax and Moderna are working on booster shots to make their drugs more effective against the South Africa variant.