With the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning Friday that a new, much more contagious strain of the coronavirus could become the dominant source of infection in the country by March, public health advocates underscored the imperative for President-elect Joe Biden to quickly turn the page from the Trump administration's failure-ridden pandemic response by accelerating development and distribution of effective vaccines from day one of his presidency.
"We're sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel."
—Dr. Jay Butler, CDC
The CDC said the new, more contagious variant—known as B117—originated in Britain and is currently circulating at low levels in the United States.
"I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks," said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC, according to the New York Times. "We're sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel."
"We know what works and we know what to do," Butler added.
"What to do," the CDC says, includes "universal and increased compliance with mitigation strategies, including distancing and masking." The agency added that "higher vaccination coverage might need to be achieved to protect the public."
2/ Even though the UK variant doesn't cause more severe disease (i.e. the % of those infected who get sick / are hospitalized / die remains the same), it will kill more people because it's more transmissible. More people infected = more deaths. pic.twitter.com/MmUBqyYE7p
— Céline Gounder, MD, ScM, FIDSA (@celinegounder) January 15, 2021
On Friday, Biden said that "the more people we vaccinate and the faster we do it, the sooner we can put this pandemic behind us and the sooner we can build our economy back better and get back to our lives and our loved ones."
To that end, the president-elect unveiled a five-point vaccination plan, promising to invoke the Defense Production Act to help "manage the hell" out of nationwide vaccine distribution.
"The vaccine rollout in the United States has been a dismal failure thus far," Biden asserted, adding that "we remain in a dark winter."
"Things will get worse before they get better," he warned.
Public health experts said that Biden's $400 billion pandemic mitigation plan—which includes the ambitious goal of vaccinating 100 million people in the first 100 days of his administration—as well as Friday's selection of Dr. David Kessler to head the government's effort to develop, manufacture, distribute, and administer coronavirus vaccines, are promising signs, especially following the colossal failures of the Trump administration to contain the year-long outbreak.
Hospitals across much of the U.S. are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients. As of Friday evening, nearly 23.5 million people in the United States have been infected with coronavirus, and more than 391,000 have died. The U.S. leads the world in both infections and deaths, both by large margins.