B.1.1.7 COVID Strain Continues to Infiltrate the U.S.

January 28, 2021
Frank Diamond

Aside from being more contagious and deadlier, the B.1.1.7 strain of COVID-19 seems to pose a greater threat to children, some experts believe.

A variant of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that experts say is anywhere from 50% to 70% more contagious, and 30% deadlier, than what has been for months the most prominent strain of the disease, D614G, continues to spread in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 315 confirmed cases of B.1.1.7 have been spotted in 28 states as of yesterday. The CDC warned last week that unless drastic infection prevention measures aren’t taken immediately—measures including vaccinating millions of Americans quickly—B.1.1.7 could very well become the dominant strain in the US by March.

In addition, CDC investigators admit that the B.1.1.7 variant—which first appeared in the United Kingdom and has since spread to at least 70 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)—might actually be spreading faster in the US than the CDC can document. Their case count comes with this disclaimer: “The cases identified above are based on a sampling of SARS-CoV-2-positive specimens and do not represent the total number of B.1.1.7 lineage cases that may be circulating in the United States and may not match numbers reported by states, territories, tribes, and local officials.”

Aside from being more contagious and deadlier, B.1.1.7 seems to pose a greater threat to children, some experts believe. This chilling revelation comes even as schools in the US wrestle with how and when to reopen. Neil Ferguson, PhD, of Imperial College London, tells the British publication the Independent that “during the lockdown in England, we saw a general shift in the age distribution of the virus towards children, and that was true in the variant and non-variant and that is what we would expect, given that we had locked down which reduced adult contacts but schools were still open. But what we’ve seen over the course of a five- or six-week period is consistently the proportion of pillar two cases for the variant in under-15s was statistically significantly higher than the non-variant virus.”

The vaccination rollout has not gone well. President Biden vows to fix that problem, saying that he hopes to have 300 million American vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of the summer. Will that help in stemming the spread of B.1.1.7?

At a press briefing yesterday, Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House Covid-19 Response Team, said that the vaccination push will be a heavy lift. “I want to level with the public that we’re facing two constraining factors,” Slavitt said. “The first is getting enough supply quickly enough, and the second is the ability to administer the vaccines quickly once they're produced and sent out to the sites.” Slavitt added that “we are taking action to increase supply and increase capacity, but even so, it will be months before everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one.”

Of the 47 million doses of vaccine delivered to states and long-term care facilities, only 24 million doses have been administered, Slavitt said.

“Any stockpile that may have existed previously no longer exists,” Slavitt said. “Our practice is to maintain a rolling inventory of two to three days of supply that we can use to supplement any shortfalls in production and to ensure that we are making deliveries as committed.”