LA, CA Flying Blind On Covid-19 Mutants; Fauci warns of ‘wake-up call’ – Deadline

“The projection is that at the very end of March, beginning of April,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, the most contagious UK variant of Covid-19 “will become more dominant than the wild type.

“The point is that when you have a virus that has the ability to transmit more efficiently than the wild type in the community, sooner or later through the pure viral dynamics itself, it will become more dominant than the wild type,” the The country’s top infectious disease expert said Friday during a briefing with other health officials.

“It’s a wake-up call for all of us,” Fauci warned.

“We will continue to see the evolution of mutants. This means that we as government, as companies, all of us who are in the same boat, will have to be nimble so that we can just easily adjust to create versions of the vaccine that are actually specifically aimed at the mutation that actually travels. at any time, ”Fauci said.

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Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health announced that the well-known UK variant of Covid-19, known as B.1.1.7, had been identified in the region. B.1.1.7 is thought to be up to 50% more transmissible than the most common form of the virus. It was thought that the number of LA residents infected with the UK variant was still low, but since the number of daily scans of test samples for the new variants is also low, it is very difficult to know how bad they are. common. It is a problem.

Then, last week, the California Department of Public Health revealed that another lesser-known strain was also circulating in the state.

Dubbed CAL.20C, the variant is said to have appeared in the state in July, but did not start to spread significantly until November.

According to the New York Times, CAL.20C was found in more than half of California test samples genomically analyzed in mid-January. It should be noted that the number of these samples analyzed is significantly lower than the total number of daily Covid-19 tests in the state. Therein lies another problem.

Like california deposit billions of dollars to fight the virus and rightly spends much of it on vaccine distribution, it spends very little to identify new variants.

At the beginning of January, the State had administered more than 30 million Covid-19 tests. Of these tens of millions, only around 7,000 had been genomically analyzed, according to the San Jose Mercury News. It must be said that the nation as a whole is terribly behind in these analyzes. But California – and Los Angeles in particular – is the global epicenter of the pandemic. The need here is more acute.

Eric Vail, director of molecular pathology at Cedars-Sinai, told The Times that CAL.20C may have played a role in the spike in cases that overwhelmed hospitals in Southern California earlier this month. “I have no doubts that this is a more contagious strain of the virus,” said Dr. Vail.

But Los Angeles County only genomically analyzes a few dozen samples per day, so it’s hard to know. It’s out of the middle 81,000 tests per day. (Health officials say they’re flagging the most suspicious samples for genomic examination.)

Asked about this disparity by Deadline on Friday, LA County Scientific Director Dr. Paul Simon admitted, “We don’t really have a clue about the prevalence. [of new strains], but we don’t think it’s high. As we grow we hope to get a better idea. I think we are doing everything to test as many as possible, but there is no new infusion of resources. “

According to Mercury News:

Sequencing is expensive. It requires manpower. It takes time. And it distracts attention from the most pressing public health needs.

Unlike the UK, whose national strategy of so-called “genomic surveillance” is run by a handful of large laboratories, the US effort falls on the weary shoulders of many state and local health services, already stressed by the pandemic. . There is no federal funding for a coordinated, real-time effort. And because our healthcare system is fragmented, there is no single pipeline that would deliver all positive samples for sequencing.

To be fair, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and California Governor Gavin Newsom have repeatedly said they need more help from the federal government, and both are hoping it will come from within. Biden administration.

In the meantime, the pandemic continues. Numbers in Los Angeles and California have dropped significantly from their early January highs, but deaths remain near all-time highs. In the past three days alone, California has recorded more than 2,000 virus-related deaths.

“The [variant] this is more concerning and what could really be problematic is the mutant that is now dominant in South Africa, ”Fauci said Thursday. “We are already planning and implementing a modified version of the vaccine, which could ultimately be directed specifically against the South African isolate, which is the most problematic of all,” he said.

The South African variant, called B.1.351, appeared in early October. B.1.351 shares some mutations with B.1.1.7. Cases caused by this variant were first reported in the United States on Thursday.

CDC reports the South African variant and another Brazilian variant “seem to spread more easily and faster than the other variants. They may also be less vulnerable to the effects of antibody-based drugs or antibody-rich blood collected from Covid-19 survivors, both of which help fight the virus. The Washington Post reported On Friday, B.1.351 also appears to be less impacted by Johnson & Johnson’s developing one-shot vaccine.

Fauci said that vaccinating “as many people as possible, as quickly as possible” is the best defense against the new variants.

“The virus will continue to mutate and mutate for its own selective advantage,” he said. If Covid-19 is prevalent in a community, it is only a matter of time before the virus mutates as it has ample “opportunity to adapt”.

“The fundamental principle of getting people vaccinated as quickly and as efficiently as possible will always be the best way to prevent the further development of any mutant. Because when you do that, you are preventing replication, and replication is essential for the mutation. “

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