Biden Covid-19 advisor warns new strains may escape immune response

Biden Covid-19 advisor warns new strains may escape immune response
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An advisor to US President Joe Biden has warned that the new Covid-19 strains may elude the immune response.

Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of the Biden-Harris Transition Covid Advisory Board, said the highly transmissible new Covid-19 strains may escape the immune response.

Dr. Gounder said: “They’re more virulent, can cause more death, and some of them may even escape the immune response, whether it’s natural or from the vaccine. So it’s really important right now that we do everything possible to preserve the vaccines to make sure they keep working and that means preventing the spread of these new variants.”

Data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the highly contagious Covid variants have been detected in at least 33 US states and according to researchers, these strains can prolong the pandemic and potentially create another surge.

The CDC even projects the UK variant to become the dominant strain in the US by March.

Variants in the US

In early January, Michael Osterholm, President-elect Joe Biden’s Covid-19 advisor warned that more Covid variants are expected to arrive in the US.

“This is a challenge and it’s one that, as we’re watching in Europe with the new variant, has been made only more acute by the fact that this virus now, the new strains, are transmitting even more effectively than the ones before,” Osterholm said.

White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said last week that health authorities will collaborate to determine how effective Covid-19 vaccines are against mutated strains of the virus that were detected in countries like UK and South Africa.

Dr. Fauci said that the National Institutes of Health and the CDC will work together to evaluate the vaccines’ effectiveness against new variants of the virus.

“We will be monitoring in real time the effect of antibodies that we induce with current vaccines and future vaccines as to what impact they have on the ability to neutralize these mutants,” Dr. Fauci said Wednesday.

Dr. Fauci and other officials at the briefing discussed three variants of concern: the B.1.1.7 strain, which was found in the UK, B.1.351, which was detected in South Africa, and P.1, which has emerged in Brazil. Scientists are trying to understand if the strains spread more easily or make people more severely sick. The B.1.1.7 strain, for instance, seems to spread more easily and officials in the UK mentioned that it could make people more sick.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained that the currently authorized vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are still highly effective against the B.1.1.7 strain, but “things get a bit more problematic” with the B.1.351 strain that surfaced in South Africa. He pointed out that vaccine-induced antibodies might be less effective in fighting that strain, but “it still is well within the cushion of protection.”

“You could diminish the vaccine-induced antibody efficacy by a few fold and still be well within the protective range of the vaccine,” he said.

Aside from the two currently authorized vaccines, Johnson & Johnson has applied for an emergency use authorization with the FDA for its Covid-19 vaccine

The application for an emergency use authorization was submitted by J&J to the FDA after publishing results of its Phase 3 trial last week. Data showed that its one-dose Covid-19 vaccine has a 66% average effectiveness.