A White House Official Just Gave This Warning About the New COVID Mutation
This is what you need to know about the new virus strain identified in the U.K.
As the COVID vaccine is rolled out across the nation, the novel coronavirus itself has a sneaky development of its own: a new strain of the virus has been detected in the U.K. British officials have been warning about the mutation for the past week or so, and 30 countries have shut down travel from the U.K. as a precautionary measure. Now, there are fears that the new strain could make its way to the U.S. and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is urging the federal government to ban visitors from the U.K., as well. While that remains to be seen, the U.S. surgeon general has just issued a warning to Americans about the new COVID mutation.
On CBS's Face The Nation on Sunday, host Margaret Brennan asked Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, about the new COVID mutation. "Well, [it's] very important for people to know that viruses mutate all the time, and that does not mean that this virus is any more dangerous. We don't even know if it's really more contagious yet or not or if it just happened to be a strain that was involved in a superspreader event," said Adams. However, he did issue this warning: "It just further reinforces the fact that we need to wash our hands, wear our mask, watch our distances, keep our household gatherings small, because if this is a mutation that is more contagious, then that just means that we need to be that much more vigilant while we wait to get vaccinated."
If you're concerned about this new COVID mutation, read on to find out how it could affect you. And for more signs to look out for with the virus, check out If Your Symptoms Appear in This Order, You May Have Severe COVID.
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It does appear to be more contagious.
At a U.K. government press conference on Saturday, England's Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that "although there's considerable uncertainty, it may be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the old variant, the original version of the disease. This is early data and it's subject to review."
The main issue is that this strain of the virus is moving through the population faster, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said at the same press conference. He noted it's now the dominant form of the virus in the capital city London and southeast England. "As a result of the rapid spread of the new variant, preliminary modeling data and rapidly rising incidence rates in the South East, the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) now consider that the new strain can spread more quickly," Whitty confirmed. And for more on how the virus spreads, check out If You Don't Have This in Your Home, You're at Higher Risk for COVID.
But it shouldn't affect the efficacy of the vaccine.
However, Whitty's colleague, Britain's Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance, stressed that the currently available vaccines appear to still generate an immune response against this new variant of the virus.
Adams echoed that sentiment on Face the Nation, saying, "Right now, we have no indications that it is going to hurt our ability to continue vaccinating people." And for more recent vaccine news, check out If You Did This in 2020, You Can Get Your COVID Vaccine Sooner.
It's already abroad.
"We think it may be in other countries as well," Vallance told reporters on Saturday of the new COVID mutation. "It may have started here, we don't know for sure."
Findings from Nextstrain, which has been monitoring viral samples worldwide, suggest cases have already been identified in Denmark, Australia, and the Netherlands. However, another mutation spotted in South Africa is distinct and not the same as the U.K. variety. And for more on how to stay safe if you must travel, check out The 4 Things You Shouldn't Do at a Hotel During COVID, Doctor Warns.
It doesn't appear to be deadlier.
Positive news came from Whitty who said that while "the new strain can spread more quickly," at the present time "there is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate… although urgent work is underway to confirm this." He stressed the need for individuals to do their part to prevent passing the virus on given the latest news. "It is now more vital than ever that the public continue to take action in their area to reduce transmission," he said.
Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, who appeared on Face the Nation on Sunday after Adams, confirmed that the new strain "is probably not more lethal." Though he said there's research to be done, Gottlieb explained the new COVID mutation "doesn't seem to be any more virulent, any more dangerous than run-of-the-mill COVID." And for more updates on the pandemic delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
The virus will continue to mutate.
"It's become very clear over the last several months that mutations can occur," Deepti Gurdasani, MD, a clinical public health researcher at Queen Mary University of London, told The New York Times. "As selection pressure increases with mass vaccination, I think these mutants will become more common."
Gottlieb shared a similar message, noting COVID mutating is nothing new. "This virus mutates like all viruses. Flu mutates the most. And what viruses do is they change their surface proteins. And once they do that, the antibodies that we've developed against those surface proteins no longer work. Now, flu mutates very rapidly, changes its surface proteins very rapidly. So, we constantly need to get a new flu shot. Some viruses like measles don't change their surface proteins. And so the measles shot we got 20 years ago still works. Coronavirus seems somewhere in the middle," he said.
What that means is, you'll probably be getting an annual COVID vaccine. "It's going to mutate and change its surface proteins, but probably slow enough that we can develop new vaccines," Gottlieb said. And for more on signs you could have battled the virus and not known it, check out These 2 Strange Symptoms Could Mean You've Already Had COVID.