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Fauci says mu variant isn’t an ‘immediate threat’ to U.S. as delta remains dominant coronavirus strain

The new “variant of concern” of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 added to the list being monitored by the World Health Organization this week is not an “immediate threat” to the U.S., the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert said, as the delta variant continues to dominate.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, acknowledged that the variant, which has been assigned the Greek letter mu, “has a constellation of mutations that suggest if would evade certain antibodies,” as the New York Times reported.

But the highly transmissible delta variant, which accounts for an estimated 99% of all COVID cases in the U.S. currently, is a far bigger concern.

“Bottom line, we are paying attention to it,” Fauci said of the mu variant at a White House briefing. “We take everything like that seriously, but we don’t consider it an immediate threat right now.”

The U.S.’s seven-day average of new cases stood at 164,326 on Thursday, according to a New York Times tracker, though cases are beginning to come down in Florida and Mississippi, two recent hot spots with lower-than-average vaccination rates.

But deaths and hospitalizations remain at levels last seen during the winter months and show no sign of slowing. The vast majority are people who are unvaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker is showing that almost 175 million Americans are fully vaccinated, equal to 52.7% of the overall population, including those too young to be eligible. That means they have had two doses of the vaccines developed by Pfizer
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and German partner BioNTech
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and Moderna
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or one of Johnson & Johnson’s
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single-dose vaccine. Some 62% of the overall population has received at least one dose.

Among adults 18 and older, 63.7% are fully vaccinated and 74.5% have had at least one dose, numbers that have remained relatively static in recent weeks, even though the pace of daily vaccinations has picked up as more employers mandate them for workers returning to offices. Roughly 900,000 doses are being administered daily, according to the Times tracker.

The U.S. government plans to provide almost $3 billion in funding to shore up the vaccine supply chain, federal health officials said Thursday. The investment will go to U.S. companies to build out production lines for supplies like lipids, tubing, needles, syringes and protective gloves.

“This will create thousands of good-paying American jobs, help us deliver on the president’s commitment to be the arsenal of vaccines for the world, and strengthen our long-term capabilities to respond to future threats,” Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said during the briefing.

An influential Food and Drug Administration advisory committee plans to meet Sept. 17 to discuss extra doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, including the applications filed by Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna for authorizations.

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee traditionally recommends whether the FDA should authorize or approve a vaccine or drug. The regulator is not required to follow the advice of the committee but often does.

The Biden administration previously said that COVID-19 booster shots would be available to adults starting Sept. 20, though availability will be dependent on a stamp of approval from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The move is controversial, as the WHO is pushing for a moratorium on boosters until most of the world has received vaccines, which were largely hoovered up by wealthier countries when they first became available.

For more see: European regulator sees ‘no urgent need’ for COVID-19 boosters, aligning with WHO view and not the U.S.

Related: COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are more complicated than they appear. Here’s why.

Elsewhere, the CDC is to publish two new studies that will show how COVID cases, emergency-room visits and hospitalizations for children are far lower in places with high vaccination rates, according to its director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

“Vaccination works,” she told a White House briefing.

“What is clear from these data is community-level vaccination coverage protects our children,” she said. “As the number of COVID-19 cases increase in the community, the number of children getting sick, presenting to the emergency room and being admitted to the hospital will also increase. “

See: U.S. adds just 235,000 jobs in August as delta dents hiring and slows economy

In the U.K., AstraZeneca
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has reached a settlement agreement with the European Commission over its COVID-19 vaccine, ending the litigation between the pharmaceutical company and the European Union’s executive body, as Dow Jones Newswires reported.

AstraZeneca said it has committed to delivering 60 million doses by the end of the third quarter, 75 million by the end of the fourth quarter, and 65 million by the end of the first quarter of 2022.

Australia will get an additional 4 million doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine in September in a vaccine swap with the U.K., Reuters reported. The deal, announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, will double the availability of Pfizer vaccines this month, with the first shipment of vaccines from Britain expected to arrive over the weekend.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered officials to wage a tougher epidemic prevention campaign in “our style” after he turned down some foreign COVID-19 vaccines offered via the U.N.-backed Covax program, the Associated Press reported.

Kim said officials must “bear in mind that tightening epidemic prevention is the task of paramount importance which must not be loosened even a moment,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported Friday.

See: Travel company Sabre says August bookings remained sharply below 2019 levels as pandemic continued to weigh

Earlier this week, Kim declined a batch of Sinovac vaccines and suggested they be sent to countries severely affected by COVID instead. North Korea has maintained that it has had zero COVID cases, a claim that is widely doubted.

The Biden administration announced that Americans who have been fully vaccinated with a two-dose regimen against Covid-19 should receive a booster, citing the threat from the highly contagious Delta variant. WSJ breaks down what you need to know. Photo: Hannah Beier/Reuters
Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 219.2 million on Friday, while the death toll rose above 4.54 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with a total of 39.6 million cases and 643,706 deaths. 

India has the second highest death toll after the U.S. at 439,895 and is third by cases at 32.9 million, the Johns Hopkins data show.

Brazil has second highest death toll at 581,914 and has had 20.8 million cases.

In Europe, Russia has recorded 182,341 deaths, followed by the U.K. with 133,244.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 107,130 confirmed cases and 4,848 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

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