WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — A newly discovered strain of the coronavirus has prompted shutdowns and travel restrictions across Europe.
Scientists say the mutated virus found in the United Kingdom may be spreading faster.
White House public officials say they’re not shocked by the discovery, but warn it could come here next.
“We could have that same type of escape mutant here,” said Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus response. “We really need to be vigilant to be watching for this, but what we do know is we know we can prevent transmission.”
Early research shows the new strain of COVID-19 — discovered in England — spreads faster. Though there is so far no evidence it’s more deadly.
“Right now, all the vaccine manufacturers are looking very closely to see if this particular strain, to see if the vaccine is still effective against that,” Birx said.
For now, Birx says those who can get vaccinated immediately should.
“These vaccines are going to save so many lives,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.
On Tuesday, Azar and Dr. Anthony Fauci became the latest officials to publicly take a shot in the arm.
“I feel extreme confidence in the safety and the efficacy of the vaccine,” Fauci said.
Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow says she remains concerned about the vaccine supply in her state and others.
She hopes billions in new funding from the latest COVID-19 relief package will help.
“This is an ongoing effort that needs to be addressed… to get the job done,” Stabenow said.
Birx says the goal remains to have 20 million Americans vaccinated by the end of December.
“It really needs to get to all our front-line health care providers,” Birx said.
Most optimistic schedules predict most Americans will not get the vaccine until the spring or summer.
Birx is encouraging Americans to wear a mask, social distance and to not gather in large groups to avoid spreading the virus.