Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday that new variants of the coronavirus that were initially found in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil — and have since been identified in the United States — are expected to persist, eventually outnumbering the original COVID-19 virus.
"We will continue to see the evolution of mutants," Fauci, the nation's leading infectious diseases expert, said Friday. He stressed that federal health officials and companies developing vaccines will need to be "nimble" in order to produce versions of the vaccine that are directed at whatever mutant is prevalent.
A variant initially identified in the U.K. has now been found in 29 U.S. states, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Variants first identified in South Africa and Brazils have also been found stateside.
Fauci said vaccinating "as many people as we can, as quickly as we can," is the best defense against new variants. "The virus has a playing field to mutate," he said, explaining that the virus cannot mutate if it is not given the chance to replicate.
"The virus will continue to mutate and will mutate for its own selective advantage," he said. If COVID-19 is prevalent in a community, it is only a matter of time before it mutates, according to Fauci, because it is gives "the virus an opportunity to adapt."
Fauci said federal officials are concerned about a number of variants, in particular the mutation first identified in the U.K., which has been show to transmit more easily than the original COVID-19 strain. According to Fauci, that feature means its dominance is inevitable. Current projections show that the variant "will become more dominant than the wild type," by March or April, he said.
The briefing came a day after Fauci said President Joe Biden's push to reopen most schools within 100 days "may not happen."
In an interview with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association on Thursday, Fauci expressed caution over Mr. Biden's goal to reopen schools after the first 100 days of his term.
"That may not happen because there may be mitigating circumstances," Fauci said.
Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday reiterated Mr. Biden's support for a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package to be passed in Congress, and said that the White House was not interested in breaking the bill up into smaller portions. Some Republicans have balked at the price tag for the bill, and it is unclear whether it will be able to garner any GOP votes.
Psaki said Mr. Biden had reached out to both Republican and Democratic members of Congress to discuss coronavirus relief.