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Vaccine effective even amid new COVID-19 strain, officials say

Surgeon general nominee Vivek Murthy speaks during an

Surgeon general nominee Vivek Murthy speaks during an event in Delaware on Dec. 8. Murthy said the general public should have access to a vaccine by summer or fall. Credit: AP/Susan Walsh

WASHINGTON — Top public health officials for both the Trump Administration and incoming Biden Administration on Sunday said while U.S. health agencies are tracking reports of a new contagious strain of COVID-19 detected in England, there is no current indication the mutated virus will be resistant to vaccines rolled out this past week.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Biden’s nominee for the same post, Vivek Murthy, each making the Sunday political talk show rounds, said there is currently no evidence that the new strain is more lethal or contagious.

"Right now, we have no indications that it is going to hurt our ability to continue vaccinating people or that it is any more dangerous or deadly than the strains that are currently out there and that we know about," Adams told CBS’ "Face the Nation."

Murthy, appearing on NBC’s "Meet the Press," said while reports out of England appear to show the new strain is "more transmissible, more contagious," there is no "evidence yet that this is a more deadly virus."

"The bottom line is if you're at home and you're hearing this news, it does not change what we do in terms of precautions as individuals that can reduce the spread of this virus," said Murthy, who served as surgeon general under the Obama Administration. "It turns out that masking, that keeping physical distance, washing our hands — these are still the pillars of preventing COVID transmission."

Adams and Murthy said most Americans should have access to the current pair of federally approved COVID-19 vaccines by midsummer or fall as the country kicked off delivering its first wave of vaccinations this past week.

President-elect Joe Biden has said his administration will aim to deliver 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office, as pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna continue to ramp up production of their recently approved vaccines.

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Asked about Biden’s timeline, Murthy said Biden’s goal, which would continue to prioritize frontline workers and at-risk populations such as the elderly was "doable," but "it may be closer to mid-summer or early fall when this vaccine makes its way to the general population."

Adm. Brett Giroir, the Trump administration’s coronavirus testing czar, offered an earlier target date, telling ABC’s "This Week" that the Department of Health and Human Services is "very confident that by June anyone in America who wants to have a vaccine will have an opportunity to have a vaccine."

Giroir said the agency will continue to monitor the British strain, but noted that "viruses mutate. We've seen almost 4,000 different mutations among this virus. There is no indication that the mutation right now that they're talking about is overcoming England."

Several European nations including Austria, Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France and the Netherlands have banned incoming travel from England, citing concerns about the new strain.

The White House did not respond to an inquiry Sunday about whether the U.S. was considering implementing any travel restrictions from Europe.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in a Saturday press briefing, said the new strain was up to 70% more transmissible than other strains of the virus.

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