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The last few months of the pandemic have seen highly contagious variants of COVID-19 develop and spread through certain areas. And the most recent variant outbreak has had devastating effects on India, where a locally discovered strain known as B.1.617 was labeled a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 10. But during a press briefing held by the White House COVID-19 Response Team on May 18, Anthony Fauci, MD, made a major announcement about the Indian variant, saying that existing vaccines are effective against the strain.
"If you look at a number of studies, again, that have come out literally within the last few days, on each of them, the … neutralization resistance to the [Indian variant] 617 antibody suggests that the current vaccines that we are all using—that we've been speaking about—would be at least partially and probably quite protective," he told reporters.
Since first being discovered in October, the B.1.617 variant has been reported in at least 44 countries—including the U.S.—on every continent besides Antarctica, CNN reports. The U.K. has had the largest number of reported cases outside of India, while the United States currently has it listed as a "variant of interest."
Fauci also pointed out several other initial studies that found both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were not only effective against other strains, including the California and New York variants, but were also "at least partially and probably quite protective" against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. "This is just another example of the scientific data accruing and—as I've shown you here, literally over the last few days—indicating another very strong reason why we should be getting vaccinated," he emphasized.
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But according to Rochelle Walensky, MD, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccinations are already having a serious effect on the pandemic's trajectory. "Cases have continued to decrease, and have not been this low since spring of last year. Hospital admissions are down, deaths are down, and we are vaccinating between 1.5 million and 2 million people per day," she told reporters during the briefing.
"The past week has been a big week, with progress and milestones that set us on a path out of this pandemic. We should all have cautious optimism," Walensky added. "We are now working with governors and local leaders who are looking at their case transmission rates and vaccination rates to make informed decisions about how to safely get back to the activities we have lost during this pandemic."