Rochelle Walensky, the incoming director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned of “dark weeks ahead” as regards COVID-19, even though she remained upbeat about a vaccine’s efficacy in containing a new strain of the virus.
In an interview with CBS News’ Face the Nation on Sunday, Walensky, who was picked by President-elect Joe Biden to head the CDC in December, said that the health agency “expects half a million deaths” in the US by the middle of February.
“That doesn't speak to the tens of thousands of people who are living with a yet uncharacterised syndrome after they've recovered. And we still yet haven't seen the ramifications of what happened from the holiday travel, from holiday gathering in terms of high rates of hospitalisations and the deaths thereafter,” she added.
The CDC chief then got down to the issue of a new variant of COVID-19 which is reportedly at least 50 percent more contagious than the present virus that is spreading in the UK, US, South Africa and Brazil.
“We’ve known for a long time that viruses mutate - not just the coronavirus but any virus. So far, the one from the UK looks like it is more transmissible,” Walensky noted, saying that the CDC doesn’t have “any information whether [the new strain] evades our vaccines.”
According to her, the CDC “has had indications” that the new variant of COVID-19 “probably” does not evade the vaccine even though further studies are needed to look at the strains coming out of the strain from South Africa, Brazil and Nigeria to determine the vaccine’s efficacy.
On the issue of a better system of surveillance to detect a new strain of the virus, Walensky said that one of the things she is “really going to advocate […] is to make sure that [the US] has the resources for our public health system so that we can do the surveillance that is necessary for that testing.”
When asked if there are any production problem with the vaccine, she admitted that “there are bottlenecks in different places across the entire system”.
“As you look across the states and distribution, you know, different states are having different challenges. How much is being rolled out to each state, whether those states have adequate personnel, whether those states are getting vaccine to pharmacies. And our job is to make sure that with the entire support of the federal government that we get, we tackle all of those bottlenecks wherever we are so we can get vaccine into people's arms”, she pointed out.
The remarks came a couple of days after a new CDC report revealed that a new variant of COVID-19, known as B.1.1.7, could become the predominant strain in the US by March, as the virus is rapidly spreading across the nation.
As of Sunday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US had soared to 23.9 million, with over 397,000 fatalities, according to the latest situation report by Johns Hopkins University.