Fauci: vaccines may need tweaks as mutations spread

By Chris Sommerfeldt
New York Daily News/TNS
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Dec. 22, 2020 in Bethesda, Maryland.

Coronavirus vaccine manufacturers should be prepared to tweak the makeup of their shots in case they end up being ineffective against a variety of emerging COVID-19 mutations, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday.

Fauci issued the warning in a virtual White House coronavirus task force briefing when asked if the new strain of COVID-19 that is popping up in Los Angeles should be of concern for other big cities.

“(We) will have to be nimble to be able to just adjust readily to make versions of the vaccine that actually are specifically directed towards whatever mutation is actually traveling at any given time,” said Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who serves as President Joe Biden’s chief pandemic adviser.

In Los Angeles, more than 1 in every 3 COVID-19 patient has contracted the new strain, which is likely fueling the city’s outbreak, according to local researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Fauci said additional mutations are likely developing without being noticed.

“The underlying issues that are going on in California and Los Angeles very likely are taking place throughout the country,” he said.

Fauci stressed that there’s so far no information to suggest that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines on tap aren’t effective in preventing the new mutations.

However, he said vaccine manufacturers must be ready for the possibility that that reality could change, as more mutations emerge.

With the virus still killing thousands of Americans every day, Fauci said the best recipe to prevent more mutations is to accelerate the pace of vaccinations.

“This is a wake-up call to all of us,” Fauci said.

Fauci has previously said the U.S. can achieve herd immunity to COVID-19 once at least 70% of the population is vaccinated.

But it will take months to reach that level, with public health experts agreeing herd immunity likely won’t be achieved until the end of this summer at the earliest.

Biden has pledged that his administration will vaccinate at least 100 million Americans in his first 100 days in office.

To make good on that promise, his administration is invoking the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of vaccines and relevant materials.

Adding to the arsenal, Fauci said the Food and Drug Administration could grant emergency approval to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate in a matter of weeks.

Contrary to the Pfizer and Moderna shots, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose, with recipients achieving immunity in as little as seven days, according to Fauci.

“The results really are very encouraging,” the doctor said.