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As the nation turned the page on the deadliest month since the coronavirus pandemic began, Dr. Anthony Fauci made a plea for Americans to take one of the COVID-19 vaccines to help prevent new variants of the virus from emerging.
“You need to get vaccinated when it becomes available as quickly and as expeditiously as possible,” Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said during a virtual press briefing of the White House COVID-19 response team. “And the reason for that is ... viruses cannot mutate if they don’t replicate. And if you stop their replication by vaccinating widely and not giving the virus an open playing field to continue to respond to the pressures that you put on it, you will not get mutations.
“... Not only are you going to protect individuals from getting disease, not only are you going to protect them from getting infected,” he said, “but you are going to prevent the emergence of variants.”
Last week, Fauci warned that the new variants that were initially identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil — and have since been found in the United States — are expected to eventually outnumber cases of the original strain of the virus. The U.K. variant has now been found in nearly three dozen U.S. states.
Fauci also said that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is less effective than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, will still be helpful in the global fight against the pandemic, especially since it is available in a single dose compared to the two-dose regimens required for the others.
“A cheap, one-shot vaccine means an awful lot,” Fauci said.
Earlier in the briefing, the Biden administration announced that it had struck a deal to produce the first over-the-counter coronavirus tests.
Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House COVID-19 response team, said that the $30 at-home tests, produced by Australian-based company Ellume, are 95 percent effective at detecting the virus. Results from the tests, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized for use in December 2020, are sent to users’ smartphones within 15 minutes.
The administration awarded Ellume $230 million to ramp up its production, Slavitt said, with at least 8.5 million of the test kits made available for the United States.
The latest public update from White House on the coronavirus comes amid a mounting U.S. death toll. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said more than 90,000 Americans died of complications from COVID-19 in January, making it the deadliest month of the pandemic to date.
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