Dr Ashish K Jha (pictured), dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, has issued a warning about the new ‘super-covid’ variants
A top public health expert says the new ‘super-covid’ variants could make the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. up to five times deadlier.
The new strain, known as B.1.1.7 – which was first detected in the UK – has now infected at least 37 people in seven states and at least 30 countries.
Meanwhile, a close cousin has been found in South Africa, UK and at least seven other nations – but not yet in the U.S.
It is feared to be up to 70 percent more transmissible and to spread more easily among children.
Dr Ashish K Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, says because the new variant is ‘significantly more infectious,’ there could be up to 10 million new infections in the U.S. and as many as 150,000 deaths from now to the end of February.
Because of this, he argues that U.S. must also delay administering second doses of the coronavirus vaccine and instead give as many Americans possible initial shots.
In a news release, Jha wrote that a significant increase in COVID-19 infection rates will create a much more lethal pandemic despite the fact that the new variants do not make patients sicker.
He references an epidemiologist from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who hypothetically compared a strain that was 50 percent more contagious with one that was 50 percent deadlier in a Twitter thread.
The B.1.1.7 strain first detected in the UK has now infected at least 37 people in seven states (above) while the strain found in South Africa has not yet reached the U.S.
Jha warns that the pandemic could become up to ‘five times deadlier’ because the new variants will infect more people faster and overwhelm hospitals. Pictured: Walter Smith, a respiratory therapist, gives oxygen to a COVID-19 patient before intubating him in the ICU at Uniontown Hospital, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, December 16
He recommends officials delay administering second coronavirus vaccine doses so as many people as possible receive at least one dose. Pictured: A bottle of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on a table before being utilized in Topeka, Kansas, December 30
The epidemiologist found that, in a town of 10,000 infections, the 50 percent deadlier strain would lead to about 193 new deaths after a month of spread.
However, the 50 percent more transmissible variant would lead to 978 new fatalities after a month, which equates to a five-fold increase.
‘Because a lower death rate of a very large number of cases produces many more deaths than a higher death rate but a lower number of cases,’ Jha explained in the news release.
‘The new strain is estimated to represent about [one percent] of all infections at this moment but because of its increased contagiousness, the best estimates are that it will be come a majority of all new infections by March.’
Jha says urgent aggressive action is needed to limit the spread of the new strain as several healthcare systems experience a severe shortage of beds and resources.
‘This new, more infectious variant will change the underlying dynamics of the pandemic, with exponential growth in infections making the virus vastly harder to contain and overburdening our stressed healthcare system.
‘The U.S. healthcare system is already staggering under the burden of the pandemic caused by the current (old) strain,’ he wrote.
Some suggestions include tightening restrictions on indoor gatherings and deploying large numbers of rapid tests to schools, offices and homes.
‘We should expect, without further action, that as the new strain takes hold, we will see an additional 10 million infections in the U.S. between now and end of February and during that time, we could easily see an additional 100,000 to 150,000 deaths,’ he wrote.
But, perhaps most importantly, Jha says the Trump administration needs to ramp up nationwide vaccination efforts.
The government’s current policy is to withhold about half of the available supply to ensure people receive a second dose.
However, Jha says officials need to prioritize making sure as many Americans as possible receive at least one dose – especially senior citizens – and then second doses can be given out when more vaccines come off the production line.
There is currently no evidence to suggest the vaccines don’t work against the new variants, and a single shot has been found at least 50 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 infection.
The UK has already opted for this, delaying second doses of both the Pfizer and Oxford University/AstraZeneca jabs so a wider group of people can receive their first shots.
Between fewer vaccines approved by the New Year then hoped, surging infection rates and the threat of the new variants, Jha urges immediate action.
‘It is essential we get ahead of this variant as it takes hold across the U.S.’ he wrote.
‘If we act aggressively now, we can avoid the worst-case scenario of more suffering, more deaths, and more economic damage that awaits us in the upcoming months.’