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Charlottesville, national health experts discuss new strain of coronavirus, vaccines

As for the new mutation, Dr. Birx said health officials need to be actively looking for it here in the U.S. She said if it was present in the UK as early as September, it may have already been in the United States.
(Ashley Boles)
Published: Dec. 24, 2020 at 3:56 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A new strain of the coronavirus found in the United Kingdom has gained the attention of health officials here in the United States.

The new strain means lots of new questions. Arguably the biggest is: will the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines be effective against it?

Dr. Costi Sifri, an infectious disease expert with the University of Virginia Health System, says it may be.

“From a scientific standpoint, the ability to have those platforms to essentially plug-and-play with new emerging pathogens is quite exciting,” he said.

Right now, the vaccine is only going out to healthcare workers and those living at long-term care facilities.

Dr. Debora Birx, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, shared a timeline on when it could be administered to the general public.

“I think those of us that don’t fit into these categories are just going to have to wait our turn after March,” she said.

In an interview with Gray TV’s D.C. Bureau, Birx noted the vaccine is only proven to be effective in preventing serious illness, not necessarily the spread of the virus.

“So you may get a low-grade infection and you may shed virus,” she said. “We know it protects against disease and protects against severe disease.”

Only time will tell if the vaccine can prevent infection. In the meantime, Birx has a familiar message for everyone.

“The masking, the physical distancing, the washing their hands, not gathering across households will stop both a more transmissible virus and well as our current viruses.”

As for the new mutation, Dr. Birx said health officials need to be actively looking for it here in the U.S. She said if it was present in the UK as early as September, it may have already been in the United States.

Her counterpart on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he thinks a travel ban from the UK would be premature.

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