The US can defeat coronavirus variants with the right tools, White House adviser says
Even as increasingly worrisome Covid-19 variants reach the United States, a senior adviser on the White House Covid-19 response team offered hope Thursday, saying they can be defeated with the right tools.
On Thursday, South Carolina confirmed two cases of a variant of the virus first identified in South Africa, a more contagious strain than those seen before.
“Nothing about this news says we can’t defeat this thing,” the White House Senior Advisor for Covid Response Andy Slavitt told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “It just means we need more tools, and we need to be more united in doing it.”
Though evidence currently does not show the variant causes more severe illness, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, experts are eager to get ahead of them.
If the variants spread rapidly, they could add 85,000 deaths to the projected death toll by May, bringing the total to up to 620,000, according to a forecast Thursday from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
“We’re going to have to stay one step ahead of these mutations,” said Slavitt. “We’re going to need processes to keep developing tests, therapies and vaccines to make sure that as and if the virus mutates a little bit, like the flu does, we’re able to stay ahead of it.”
Experts say they believe current vaccines will still be effective against the variants, but officials are still working to close the gap between the available doses and the number administered to Americans.
“We’re changing the laws to allow more people to vaccinate. We’re sending shipments directly to pharmacies,” Slavitt said. “We are invoking the Defense Production Act and have done so to get more syringes and more other gear available to people. We’re working with states hand in glove every day to find more vaccines.
“There’s not an idea that we won’t consider,” he added.
States work to get over the distribution hurdle
On the state level, leaders have taken different tracks in approaching lags in vaccine distribution and administration.
For example, officials in Connecticut have administered 364,255 total doses — meaning 35% of people 75 and older have been inoculated in the state.
“Connecticut continues to be a leader in getting people vaccinated,” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said during his Covid-19 press briefing on Thursday, adding that the promise from the Biden administration to increase state allotment by 16% means more people will be vaccinated faster.
Next week, Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington will become Kentucky’s first regional vaccination site, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday. The site will vaccinate 3,000 residents the first week, prioritizing those 70 and older.
But in Ohio, officials will have to change plans because the state wants students back to school in March.
While vaccine supply in the state is limited, Ohio has pulled vaccines from its allocation to set aside around 55,000 for the state’s K-12 school staff every week, Gov. Mike DeWine said.
Meanwhile, Idaho is calling for more transparency in how its current distribution plan is going, Gov. Brad Little said.
“Quite frankly, we need a clearer picture to shine more light on vaccine administration,” Little said during a Thursday press conference in Boise.
His new order requires both private healthcare companies and public health districts to tell the state on a weekly basis how many doses it has received, how many doses have been used, and how many doses are still in inventory. The numbers will be posted to the state’s public online Covid-19 dashboard.
Part of the goal is to make sure providers are meeting the state’s goal of having each available dose used within seven days of delivery.
Symptoms can last months, experts say
Health experts say they are learning more about “long Covid,” a condition in which some patients experience symptoms months after contracting the virus.
“Persons with long Covid often present reporting persistent, severe fatigue, headaches and brain fog, which is defined as mild subjective cognitive and cognitive impairment, approximately four weeks after acute illness,” Dr. Alfonso Hernandez-Romieu, a member of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Covid-19 response team, said during a CDC briefing Thursday.
Doctors have reported that the severity of Covid-19 illness may have little impact on whether patients experience long Covid symptoms, Hernandez-Romieu said. He noted that the CDC is working to better understand long Covid.
Dr. Allison Navis, an assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, said brain fog is one of the most common symptoms. She said doctors have observed these symptoms in younger patients — including children and adolescents — who had mild coronavirus and were previously healthy.
She said patients can benefit from “symptomatic and supportive” treatment, including specific medications, cognitive rehab, increased hydration and limited exercise. She stressed that patients should get enough sleep and look after their mental health.
“While we don’t know what’s causing these symptoms, they’re very real for patients, and we are seeing patients get better,” said Navis.