New COVID-19 strains shows possible 'resistance' to antibody, but not vaccines

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of a cell (blue) heavily infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus particles (red), isolated from a patient sample. Image captured at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. (IMAGE POINT FR/NIH/NIAID/BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The potential new head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cautioned that at least one new coronavirus strain has shown resistance to treatments, but insists the vaccines are still effective.

A number of new COVID-19 strains have arisen over the past month, stirring concern that current treatments and vaccines will not be effective. Those concerns are largely unfounded, Dr. Rochelle Walensky told "Face the Nation" host Margaret Brennan.

"We’ve known for a long time that viruses mutate, not just the coronavirus but any virus," said Walensky, who has been nominated by President-elect Joe Biden to be the next head of the CDC. "So far, the one from the U.K. looks like it is more transmissible." 

"We don't have any information whether it evades our vaccines," Walensky continued. "We have indication that it likely does not." 

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Walensky promised that there are "further studies" looking at the efficacy of the various new strains, but Brennan raised a particular report that the new South Africa strain of COVID-19 is resistant to antibody therapies.

Walensky confirmed that she had "heard similar things" about the antibodies used in treatments like the Regeneron therapy used to treat President Donald Trump. 

"I think there is concern about not just the South African and Brazilian strains but that other future strains might have resistance to those antibodies," Walensky said. "Not taking off all efficacy, but decreasing efficacy."

Walensky urged that the best way to handle possible issues arising from mutations is to catch them as soon as possible, calling on Biden to make sure that the public health system has the resources necessary to be effective.

The main concern would be that a lack of investment would delay the opening of public schools – a major goal for Biden’s first 100 days in office. The new U.K. strain of the virus has proven to be more transmissible, and that might prove problematic to ensuring a safe environment in schools.

The administration will "look carefully" at how best to invest resources to ensure that schools are able to handle the demands of a safer environment.

The administration plans to vaccinate educators and make sure transmission and disease rates have dropped before pushing for a widescale reopening.