A medical worker injects a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine into a man at a hospital in Accra, capital of Ghana on May 19, 2021.
Seth | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images
Top health officials in Europe and Africa said Wednesday they were concerned about the possible emergence of new variants of Covid that could render current vaccines unusable.
Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said he was “very concerned” about the emergence of a vaccine-resistant variant as the Delta variant, first discovered in India, continues to spread around the world. Studies have shown that current vaccines work against the new variant, although not as well as against the original wild-type virus.
“It is increasingly worrying that this pandemic is being driven by the cycle of occurrence and recurrence of different variants,” Nkengasong said at the Wall Street Journal’s Health Tech conference. “The speed at which these viruses are overtaking existing viruses is amazing.”
The Delta variant, first identified by scientists in October, has since spread to more than 62 countries, dominates the UK and is now responsible for more new infections in the country than the Alpha variant – which was first discovered in the UK
Dr. Sharon Peacock, chairman of the board of the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium, said the Delta variant is about 40 to 50% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, formerly called B.1.1.7, a strain that emerged from the UK last fall and was more contagious than the original virus.
“Given this portability, I would expect (the Delta variant) to have actually spread around the world,” she said at the conference. Peacock added that the Delta variant is already present in most US states, but it is in the early stages of spreading.
The Senior Medical Advisor to the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters yesterday that the US will need to vaccinate more people before the Delta variant takes hold in the country.
The alpha variant is currently the dominant variant in the US, but the delta variant could soon gain the upper hand like in the UK. “We cannot allow that in the US,” said Fauci yesterday.
“I would be concerned … that this will be something that may outperform other variants in circulation in the way we have seen in the UK,” said Peacock. She also said variants are more likely to occur in partially vaccinated areas. Some US states have vaccination rates over 70%, while others lag behind at 40%.
Scientists in the US are currently only sequencing 1.6% of new infections, Peacocks said. She and Nkengasong agreed that increased genome surveillance is an important way to track the spread of new variants before they catch on.