- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday evidence is growing that people who receive COVID-19 vaccines will not only be protected from disease but also will be less likely to spread the pathogen to others.

Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, pointed to decreasing cases in Israel, which has a high vaccination rate. 

Scientists in the country found a far lower viral load in people who were vaccinated but still contracted the virus compared to those who got infected and weren’t vaccinated.

Dr. Fauci also said vaccinated trial participants in Spain had lower levels of the virus in their nasopharynx and were less likely to spread the virus efficiently.

Scientists figured that people with lower concentrations of the virus would be less likely to transmit it, he said, so the data is “pointing in a very favorable direction.”

“Higher viral load — good transmissibility. Lower viral load — very poor transmissibility,” Dr. Fauci said during a White House COVID-19 briefing.

The doctor said the companies making vaccines for use in the U.S., Pfizer and Moderna, are studying the issue. 

But for now, it appears that getting vaccinated will not only keep individuals from landing in the hospital or dying but also could bring the pandemic to a close faster.

“When your turn to get vaccinated comes up, get vaccinated,” Dr. Fauci said. “It’s not only good for you and your family and your community, it will have a very important impact on the dynamics of the outbreak in our country.”

Recorded coronavirus cases are plummeting in the U.S., down to an average of 86,000 per day compared to a peak of more than 250,000 in early January. Yet transmission remains dangerously high and officials are worried that fast-spreading variants could upend progress. 

The U.S. has confirmed 1,277 cases of the B117, or “U.K.,” variant across 42 states.

The Biden administration said Wednesday it will invest $200 million to sequence about 25,000 virus samples per week, up from 7,000, though it might take a while to reach that level.

“We are scaling up sequencing every day. When we will get to 25,000 depends on the resources that we have at our fingertips and how quickly we can mobilize our partners,” said Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I don’t think this is going to be a light switch. I think it’s going to be a dial.”

Dr. Walensky said she believes the overall decrease in cases is the downslope of a winter holiday spike and not the direct result of early vaccination efforts.

“We are not at a level where we believe that the vaccination [campaign] alone is driving the decrease in cases right now,” she said.

One in 20 Americans is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and every state has delivered an initial dose to at least 1 in 10 of its residents, according to an overnight tweet from Biden adviser Andy Slavitt.

Those benchmarks reveal both progress in the fight and the arduous path to getting a sufficient level of the country immunized. Scientists say 70-75% of the U.S. will need to be vaccinated to provide the type of herd immunity that makes it difficult for the virus to spread.

“There is a long road ahead,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday.

The federal government allocates vaccine doses to the states, which are responsible for vaccinating their residents and determining who gets the shots first. Both of the approved vaccines use messenger-RNA and require two doses to offer the high level of protection demonstrated in clinical trials.

In general, U.S. island territories and rural states with small populations, such as Alaska, are leading the way in getting high percentages of their residents vaccinated.

President Biden is striking a more optimistic tone about the vaccination campaign than in the past, laying down a marker of the end of July for making a vaccine available to every American who wants one.

The pace of the vaccination campaign is improving as manufacturing ramps up and states set up high-capacity sites to deliver shots more quickly. Yet limited supply is the main impediment to a faster campaign.

An adenovirus vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is on track for emergency approval by the start of March. The Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to discuss the company’s filing with outside advisers on Feb. 26.

The J&J vaccine requires a single dose, so it should accelerate the campaign. 

Mr. Zients said the U.S. will start with a “few million” doses.

The company says it will provide the U.S. with 100 million doses through the end of June. Still, many of those doses are poised to come through later than federal officials would like.

“That is more back-end loaded,” Mr. Zients said. “We are working with the company to do everything we can — assuming they are approved by the FDA — to bring forward as many of those doses as possible into the earlier months.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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