Dr. Fauci addresses coronavirus mutations, state of pandemic in first briefing of Biden administration

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WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Dr. Anthony Fauci, in his first coronavirus briefing of the Biden administration, delivered an assessment of the pandemic one year after the first case was discovered in the U.S.

“We are still in a very serious situation,” Fauci said. “I mean, to have over 400,000 deaths is something that is unfortunately historic in a very bad sense. When you look at the number of new infections that we have, it’s still at a very, very high rate.”

Fauci is staying on as his role as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases but will add the title chief medical adviser and will serve on President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 team.

“However, if you look more recently at the seven-day average of cases… right now it looks like it might actually be plateauing, in the sense of turning around,” Fauci said, noting while that is good news, we may not be seeing the full picture in the data reported because of the holidays.

“There are always lags, so please be aware of that,” he said.

Coronavirus variants

More than 20 states have the mutation of the coronavirus which originated in the United Kingdom, Fauci told reporters.

“We need to understand that RNA viruses, like coronaviruses, mutate all the time. Most of the mutations don’t have any physiological relevance with regards to the function of the virus itself. However, every once in a while you get mutations, either singularly or clustered in combinations which do have an impact.”

Thus far, Fauci said the UK variant has a greater degree of transmissibility.

“About twice as much as what we call the wild-type original virus,” Fauci said, cautioning that this is a very early assessment. “They say correctly on a one-to-one basis it doesn’t make the virus more virulent or have a chance of making you seriously ill or killing you. However, we shouldn’t be lulled into complacency about that.”

Since the virus is more transmissible, the U.S. can expect more cases, and therefore, more deaths.

“When you get more cases, you’re going to get more hospitalizations, and when you get more hospitalizations, you’re ultimately going to get more deaths,” he said.

It doesn’t appear the South African strain has made its way to the U.S., Fauci said.

“However, we must be honest and say, that the level of comprehensive sequence surveillance thus far is not at the level that we would have liked. So, we’re going to be looking very, very carefully for it,” he said.

How vaccines & TREATMENTS Respond to the CORONAVIRUS variants

There are some early studies, according to Fauci, that the mutations are impacting the efficacy of the vaccines and treatments.

“Since monoclonal antibodies bind to a very specific part of the virus — when there’s a mutation it has a much greater chance of obliterating the efficacy of a monoclonal antibody, and we’re seeing in the much more concerning mutations that are in South Africa and in some respects Brazil… that is having an effect on the monoclonal antibodies,” Fauci said.

The UK variant has less of an effect. Fauci stressed this doesn’t mean people shouldn’t get the vaccine.

“It is all the more reason why we should be vaccinating as many people as we possibly can because as long as the virus is out there replicating, viruses don’t mutate unless they replicate. If you can suppress that by a very good vaccine campaign, then you can actually avoid this deleterious effect that you could get from the mutations.”

There are plans to modify the vaccine if they need to, but that’s not likely at this point he said.

Vaccine distribution

President Biden plans to ramp up vaccinations to reach the target of 100 million shots administered in his first 100 days in office.

Biden, flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and Fauci, earlier in the day signed 10 pandemic-related executive orders

“I think the goal of 100 million people vaccinated in the first 100 days is quite a reasonable goal,” Fauci said.

Fauci said he is pleased with Biden’s plans to launch community vaccine centers, get pharmacies more involved and invoke the Defense Production Act where appropriate, like needles and syringes.

“We’re coming in with fresh ideas, but also some ideas that were not bad ideas with the previous administration. You can’t say it was absolutely not useable at all. So, we are continuing, but we are going to see a real ramping up of it.”

A few areas Fauci is looking to work on is tackling vaccine hesitancy, do more outreach, especially to minority communities and tackle a plan for “pharmacy deserts” in the country.

“If we get 70 to 80% of the country vaccinated, let’s say by the end of the summer, middle of the summer. I believe by the time we get to the fall; we will be approaching a degree of normalities. It’s not going to be perfect, but one that can take the pressure of the American public.”

Transition of power

Fauci, who has served in as the head of NIAID since President Ronald Reagan was in office, said “it’s somewhat of a liberating feeling” to be able to speak at the podium about the science.

“One of the things that was very clear as recently as about 15 minutes ago, when I was with the president (Biden), is that one of the things that we’re going to do is be completely transparent, open and honest. If things go wrong, not to point fingers, but correct them. And to make everything we do be based on science and evidence.”

Fauci served on the coronavirus task force and was a visible face of the pandemic response under the Trump administration.

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 15: U.S. President Donald Trump is flanked by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases while speaking about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. Dubbed “Operation Warp Speed,” the Trump administration is announcing plans for an all-out effort to produce and distribute a coronavirus vaccine by the end of 2020. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“One of the new things about this administration is if you don’t know the answer, don’t guess. Just say you don’t know the answer,” Fauci said.

He was asked if he wanted to amend anything he said in the previous administration. Fauci said no and that he spoke his mind.

“And that’s why I got in trouble sometimes,” he said.

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