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The South Africa COVID-19 variant ‘is in fact here,’ and community spread has started, CDC director says

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky recently commented on the South Africa variant

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky recently commented on the South Africa variant while on the ‘Today’ show.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky recently commented on the South Africa variant while on the ‘Today’ show.
NBC NEWS / TODAY

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently told the “Today” show that the South African COVID-19 variant “is in fact here” and “the presumption at this point is that there has been community spread of this strain.”

What’s going on?

Walensky recently talked about how the South Africa variant could impact the United States and whether emerging data on vaccine effectiveness against the variant is troubling or not.

  • For context, Novavax said that the first trial for its vaccine shows it is effective in preventing COVID-19 complications 89.3% of the time. But the vaccine stopped the South Africa variant of the virus 60% of the time, a hint that the vaccine won’t be as effective against the South Africa variant.

Walensky said more data is needed before jumping to conclusions.

  • “I think we still need to unpack the implications of what they’re finding.”
  • “When viruses mutate and they develop strains and dominant strains, they usually do so for some advantage to the virus. That may come in the tune of our vaccines not working as well. … Even a vaccine that has 50%-60% efficacy would still be a really strong tool in our toolbox to fight this pandemic. ... It may just lend us to feel like we need a booster effect further down the road.”

Context

As I wrote for the Deseret News, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said there were two cases of the South Africa variant in the state, and they don’t look to be connected.

Like Walensky, Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, told The Associated Press that there could be community spread already.

  • “That’s frightening,” said Kuppalli. “It’s probably more widespread.”