Why the U.S. may not be aware of new coronavirus variant's presence
Former Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Sunday that the new, potentially more transmissible, variant of coronavirus, first identified in the UK, is "likely" already present in "low numbers" in the United States, especially since it was in Canada, Japan and Australia were discovered, Singapore and several European countries. But he told CBS News’s Margaret Brennan that it’s no surprise it slipped under the radar.
This is because the US doesn't sequence coronavirus samples frequently and sequencing is often done in private laboratories, which means the government doesn't actually track viral genomes. "In the UK they sequence about 10 percent of all samples, here we do a fraction of 1 percent," said Gottlieb during his appearance on Face the Nation. "We probably need a better approach to sequencing strains in the US more systematically to track changes and new variants of this virus."
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Scientists believe there is a solid chance the variant is more communicable, although it is possible that it simply became the dominant form of the coronavirus in London and south east England. A closer follow-up in other countries such as the US could therefore help shed light on the theory. There's no evidence that the variant differs in severity from others, and scientists remain confident that vaccines will pass against it, although more testing and data collection is needed to know for sure.
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