Fauci called those findings “concerning” in an interview Monday on NBC’s “Today” show. “The data has not come out officially, but taking a look at the preliminary data that the U.K. scientists have analyzed, I’m pretty convinced that there is a degree of increase in seriousness of the actual infection, which we really have to keep an eye on,” he said.
The CDC first warned last month that travelers could bring the newly identified U.K. coronavirus variant into the U.S., and the agency reported earlier this month that the variant could become the dominant strain of the disease in the U.S. as early as March.
Despite the latest analysis of the U.K. variant, Fauci said Monday that U.S. officials were “more concerned” about a separate coronavirus strain in South Africa because of its resistance to antibodies as a form of treatment.
“When you do studies in the test tube, in-vitro studies, it shows that the ability of monoclonal antibodies that have been used for therapy … [are] really impaired in the presence of these particular variants,” Fauci said.
“In other words, these monoclonal antibodies don’t nearly work as well as treatment,” he continued. “There is a very slight, modest diminution in the efficacy of a vaccine against it. But there’s enough cushion with the vaccines that we have that we still consider them to be effective against both the U.K. strain and the South African strain.”
Fauci stressed that U.S. officials were taking the new coronavirus strains seriously and warned that the science surrounding the variations will “continue to evolve.” But he also said he did not want Americans “to think, at this point, that the vaccines are not effective against them. They are.”
Still, “we really need to make sure that we begin — and we already have — to prepare, if it’s necessary, to upgrade the vaccines,” Fauci said. “We’re already taking steps in that direction, despite the fact that the vaccines that we have now do work.”
Indeed, Fauci’s remarks Monday came as Moderna — the U.S. drugmaker whose coronavirus vaccine was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration last month — announced that it would develop a booster shot to improve vaccine efficacy against emerging coronavirus variations.
And later Monday, Biden is expected to announce another round of coronavirus-related travel restrictions, including a new ban on most non-U.S. citizens traveling from South Africa and a reinstated ban on most non-U.S. travelers coming from Brazil, the U.K. and dozens of European countries.
Fauci described those actions by Biden as “very prudent,” adding: “We’re really taking very seriously the potential for the influx of these types of mutants into the country.”