Fauci gets vaccine as US health officials eye new UK virus strain

US health officials try to tamper fears about a new, highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus in the UK.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gestures after receiving his first dose of the new Moderna COVID-19 vaccine [Patrick Semansky/Pool via Reuters]

Dr Anthony Fauci, the United States’s top infectious disease expert, received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on camera on Tuesday, as health officials try to tamper fears about a new, highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom.

Reports of the new virus variant in England prompted a pre-Christmas lockdown and caused dozens of countries to close their borders to UK travellers this week, though the European Union recommended on Tuesday members roll back sweeping closures to allow some travel.

But the US government does not intend to impose COVID-19 screenings for passengers travelling from the UK, people briefed on the decision told the Reuters news agency.

White House coronavirus task force members backed requiring negative pre-flight tests after a meeting on Monday, but the Trump administration has decided not to take any action, for the time being, the people said.

A medical worker collects a swab sample in the COVID-19 testing centre at Duesseldorf Airport, as EU countries impose a travel ban from the UK following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak [Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters]

Canada is implementing enhanced measures to screen travellers from the UK, including those arriving from other nations, its public safety minister said on Tuesday.

The three airlines that operate flights from London to John F Kennedy International Airport – British Airways, Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic – voluntarily agreed to a request from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that they only allow passengers who test negative to fly.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Monday ordered travellers arriving from the UK, South Africa or other “countries with circulation of a new, potentially more contagious COVID-19 variation” to quarantine for 14 days after arriving in his state.

“This common-sense measure will protect Washingtonians in our fight against COVID-19,” Inslee said on Twitter.

US death toll passes 320,000

News of the coronavirus mutation comes as the US deals with a surge in new infections that is overwhelming hospitals in some states. The number of deaths in the US passed 320,000 on Tuesday, a day after the total number of infections passed 18 million, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

Some US health officials on Tuesday sought to assuage fears about the new virus variation, saying it should be monitored, but its discovery should not be cause for despair.

US Health Secretary Alex Azar told Fox News on Tuesday the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which received US emergency use authorisations this month, should be effective at preventing illness from the recently discovered variant of the virus. He also said it did not seem to have different physical effects on individuals.

Moderna and BioNTech, which worked with Pfizer Inc to develop its vaccine, are scrambling to test their shots against the variant but expressed confidence in them.

“Scientifically it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine can also deal with this virus variant,” BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin told reporters.

More than 600,000 Americans, mostly healthcare workers, had received their first COVID-19 vaccine doses as of Monday, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some states began vaccinating long-term care facility residents on Monday.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert who received the Moderna vaccine on camera on Tuesday, said surveillance is necessary to monitor the spread of the British variant, but that officials should not overreact.

“Travel bans are really rather draconian things to do,” Fauci told ABC News.

Along with Fauci, Azar and National Institutes of Health head Dr Francis Collins rolled up their sleeves for the Moderna shot on live television on Tuesday.

Source: News Agencies

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