The U.S. doesn’t need to suspend flights from the U.K. based on a coronavirus mutation that helped prompt an emergency lockdown for London, a member of the White House virus task force said.
“I really don’t believe we need to do that yet,” Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.
Giroir and Vivek Murthy, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for surgeon general, both expressed confidence that vaccines developed to fight Covid-19, two of which are already approved for use in the U.S., will be effective against the mutated form of the virus.
It’s not clear whether a more transmissible variant of the coronavirus that prompted the tighter restrictions in the U.K. has made its way to the U.S., said Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for the government’s vaccine acceleration program, Operation Warp Speed.
“We don’t know. We’re looking at that,” Slaoui said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Giroir, a pediatrician by training, questioned the severity of the threat cited by U.K. leaders, saying the coronavirus blamed for Covid-19 has already mutated more than 4,000 times since its discovery.
“We don’t know that it’s more dangerous, and very importantly we have not seen a single mutation yet that would make it evade the vaccine,” he said. While that can’t be ruled out for the future, “I don’t think there should be any reason for alarm right now,” Giroir said.
The new variant may be as much as 70% more transmissible, which led U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to announce a lockdown for London and large parts of southeast England on Saturday. He canceled plans to ease pandemic restrictions for five days over the holidays, banned household mixing in London and the southeast, and restricted socializing to just Christmas Day across the rest of England.
Murthy said that while the mutation seen in the U.K. seems to be more easily transmissible, “we do not have evidence yet that this is a more deadly virus to an individual who acquires it.”
“There’s no reason to believe that the vaccines that have been developed will not be effective against this virus as well,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The variant seems to be more contagious, though probably not more lethal, Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner under President Donald Trump and a Pfizer Inc. board member, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
It will “probably not” be able to get around immunity acquired by people who have had Covid-19 or around existing vaccines, Gottlieb said.
Even if the variant does become more widespread, Slaoui said the vaccines now rolling out will provide protection against it. That includes the Moderna Inc. vaccine that received approval from U.S. regulators Friday. Slaoui said the first Moderna shots are expected to be administered Monday.
Giroir urged Trump to get vaccinated against Covid-19 to promote acceptance of immunization among his supporters, many of whom are thought to be skeptical about getting the shot.
“We have every reason to believe that these two vaccines are very effective and they are safe,” he said. “So I would encourage the president to get a vaccine for his own health and safety, and also to generate more confidence among the people who follow him so closely.”
Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen received the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech SE in a televised event at the White House on Friday. Several members of Congress were also vaccinated.
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