Several experts predicted Tuesday the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the UK is likely to fuel another surge of cases in just a matter of weeks.
“It could result in more of a wave in, say, April or May than we would have expected otherwise,” Trevor Bedford, of the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said during a briefing sponsored by the center. “But I still do suspect that things will be brought under control in the summer, and there will be very little virus circulating.”
The predicted surge is why many experts highlight the need to double down on safety measures like face masks, social distancing and avoiding crowded areas. Helping to lower cases will also give the virus less of a chance to spread further and mutate, experts have said.
Vaccinating as many people as possible will also be a big help in slowing any more surges — and the vaccine arsenal may be bolstered soon.
The efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against moderate to severe/critical Covid-19 across all geographic areas was 66.9% at least 14 days after the single dose vaccination and 66.1% at least 28 days after vaccination, states the analysis for the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, independent group of FDA advisers.
The panel meets Friday and will consider the documents and make a recommendation about whether Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine should be authorized.
Still, the new, infectious variants make it “difficult to prevent a fourth wave altogether,” said Dr. Josh Schiffer, an infectious diseases specialist at Fred Hutchinson.
The group called on the FDA and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine advisers to be quickly convened and determine whether data supports the group’s recommendations, including deferring second vaccine doses to after the coming surge.
“There is a narrow and rapidly closing window of opportunity to more effectively use vaccines and potentially prevent thousands of severe cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the next weeks and months,” the report said.
Officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said in recent days the US is continuing to vaccinate people with both doses and close to the recommended schedules, with Fauci telling CNN earlier this week, “science points directly toward continuing with what we know about from the clinical trial.”
Early research raises concern about variant in California
So far, more than 1,900 cases of coronavirus strains first spotted in the UK, South Africa and Brazil have been reported across the US, CDC data shows.
Meanwhile, two studies that are due to come out soon also raise concerns about the variant’s impact in California.
The studies hint that the variant might not only be more contagious but may also cause more severe disease. But the research is in its very early stages, has not been published or peer-reviewed and needs more work, researchers stressed.
A team at the University of California, San Francisco, tested virus samples from recent outbreaks across the state and found it was becoming far more common: while it wasn’t seen in any samples from September, by the end of January it was found in half of the samples.
The researchers also found some evidence suggesting the variant is more dangerous, writing in a report that they observed “increased severity of disease” associated with the variant, including “increased risk of high oxygen requirement.”
A second team at Unidos en Salud — a volunteer-led collaboration between UC San Francisco and other groups that offers fast Covid-19 testing in San Francisco’s Mission District — tested more than 8,800 people in January and sequenced the virus from more than 630 positive samples. They also found a rapid increase in the variant.
FDA could OK storing Pfizer vaccine at standard temps
Concerned about the variants, US officials continue to work to ramp up vaccinations.
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech submitted data to the FDA on Friday showing its vaccine can be safely stored at temperatures higher than what is currently required for long-term storage. The Times quoted two sources familiar with the companies, who requested anonymity, saying the FDA informed the companies it would OK that request.
The move could greatly ease logistics for not just the companies, but the federal government, states and other groups that have been working to distribute those vaccines.
In California, officials said it will make changes to the statewide Covid-19 vaccine-appointment system after access codes distributed to underserved communities were used by outsiders to secure vaccines.
Recent data shows that Black and Latino residents collectively have received a combined 19% of the state’s vaccine doses while accounting for nearly 60% of California’s Covid-19 cases. In contrast, White residents have been given 32.7% of vaccine doses while making up about 20% of the state’s cases.
CNN’s Maggie Fox, Sarah Moon, Cheri Mossburg, Amanda Sealy and Michael Nedelman contributed to this report.