Dr. Fauci Just Gave This Essential Update on the Next COVID Variants

The COVID adviser shared what the emerging variants of the virus mean for us.

When COVID vaccines were first authorized in the U.S., it seemed like the worst would soon be over. In the ensuing months, however, vaccinations slowed and the Delta variant arrived, wreaking havoc across the U.S. and making COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths surge once more. Fortunately, numbers are now heading in the right direction: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infections have declined by more than 11 percent in the last week, while vaccinations have risen by more than 30 percent. With virus experts saying they expect the Delta variant surge to be completely over by Thanksgiving, people in the U.S. are more hopeful than ever that this might actually be the end of the pandemic. But once Delta dies down, what are the chances we're faced with new COVID variants that are even worse?

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Top White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, recently shared his thoughts on the future of the pandemic and the potential for new COVID variants. According to Fauci, the Delta variant is still the dominant form of the virus in the U.S., accounting for more than 99 percent of cases. While there are new strains emerging—like B.1.630, which was just detected in Louisiana—he said that it's unlikely any will reach the heights that Delta has.

"We don't expect there to be any emergence of a variant that's going to outstrip the capability of Delta," Fauci explained during an Oct. 13 White House COVID Response Team press briefing.

At the same time, Fauci cautioned that preventing any new variants from having the opportunity to surge like Delta depends on one thing: vaccinations. "A virus will not mutate or form a variant unless you give it the opportunity to replicate. So, as long as you get … control of the dynamics of virus in the community, which is best done by getting the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated, then we can prevent the emergence of new, troublesome variants," he said.

According to the CDC, 56.6 percent of the U.S. has been fully vaccinated as of Oct. 14. But Fauci noted that there are still around 66 million people eligible for vaccination who have not yet been vaccinated.

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Although there are no new variants expected to overtake Delta, virus experts have warned that we are not yet out of the woods with the current dominant variant. Scott Gottlieb, MD, former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), told CNN on Oct. 13 that "we still have a couple of months to go until this Delta wave sweeps across the country in a regionalized fashion and we are sort of done with it."

According to Gottlieb, Delta's surge is moving from the South to the West and Midwest, with a potential for a spike in the Northeast as well. "You're starting to see an uptick in cases in the colder parts of the country and, as people are driven indoors without masks on, you'll start to see cases pick up," he said.

Like Fauci, Gottlieb and other virus experts have said they expect that Delta will be the last major wave in the U.S. Fauci also discussed the end of the pandemic during the Oct. 13 press briefing, which he said would be just that—ending the pandemic, not getting rid of COVID altogether. According to the adviser, the U.S. has only really eradicated one virus, smallpox.

"As I mentioned, it is going to be very difficult—at least in the foreseeable future and maybe ever—to truly eliminate this highly transmissible virus," Fauci explained. "So, what are we looking for? We're looking for a level of control of the virus that would allow us to be able to essentially approach the kind of normal that we are all craving for and that we all talk about."

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