US races to vaccinate as CDC chief says UK variant now dominant strain

<span>Photograph: Erin Clark/EPA</span>
Photograph: Erin Clark/EPA

The UK variant of coronavirus is now the most dominant variant spreading in the US, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.

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During the White House coronavirus response team’s briefing, Dr Rochelle Walensky said of the UK variant: “It is the most common lineage, period. So there are many different lineages. Of the many different potential variants, there are several different kinds – of sort of wild type variants – and this is, in fact, the most common lineage right now.”

Walensky noted the UK variant appears to be more contagious than the original virus, and studies have suggested it also carries a higher risk of severe illness and death.

Health experts have warned the rising number of coronavirus cases in dozens of US states is probably attributable to the spread of virus variants. Michigan has recorded the worst increase in infections over the past two weeks, at a rate not seen since early December.

However, half of all American adults are on track to have received at least one Covid-19 vaccination by this weekend, according to a government adviser.

Joe Biden warned the US was still in a “life-and-death race” against the coronavirus, but Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser for Covid-19 response, said on Tuesday that 50% of adults are likely to have received a shot in the next few days.

“We do have to remember that there are 100 million-plus adults that still haven’t been vaccinated,” Slavitt told CNN in an interview on Tuesday night.

“They’re not there yet, and you don’t win the war until you bring everybody over with you.”

At least 108.3 million people had received at least one dose of the vaccine by Wednesday morning, according to the Washington Post’s tracker.

About 63 million Americans are fully vaccinated, and in more than 30 states all adults are now eligible to receive the vaccine. On Tuesday the president announced that all US adults will be eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccine by 19 April.

A record 4m doses were administered on Saturday, but Biden was quick to warn against complacency.

“We aren’t at the finish line. We still have a lot of work to do,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “We’re still in a life-and-death race against this virus.”

ABC’s Good Morning America reported from Beaumont hospital in Michigan on Wednesday morning, where a reporter said the emergency room was “slammed”.

Covid patients were waiting in the emergency room for treatment, as a hospital administrator, Dawn Holland, told the show: “We are seeing the numbers go up.”

Lynn Sutfin, Michigan health department spokeswoman, said the increase was down to a “combination of factors”.

“Variants, outbreaks among schools/sporting teams and a high case rate among 10- to 19-year-olds and now increasing rates among all age groups through 59, and Covid-fatigue,” Sutfin said, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top infectious diseases expert in the US, said “it is premature to declare a victory” against the virus.

“We are seeing more and more young people getting into serious trouble, namely severe disease requiring hospitalization and occasionally even tragic deaths in quite young people,” he said.

Biden added another encouraging statistic: more than 75% of Americans over the age of 65 have been vaccinated, he said, calling it a “dramatic turnaround” in the country’s fight against the virus.