Francis Collins to step down as NIH director

Collins said the mutations suggest that the new variant could be very different from its predecessors, raising the possibility that it could evade protections against Covid that had come through vaccines and antibodies.

The director of the National Institutes of Health said: “We need to find that out. To be honest though, that‘s going to take two, three weeks, in both laboratory and field studies, to figure out the answer. That is what all of us as scientists want to know.“

The Biden administration and other governments have been sufficiently alarmed by the new variant to restrict travel from South Africa and some of its neighbors.

Gallagher noted that early infections in Africa seemed to be mild, but Collins said it was too early to know if that would prove to be the case.

“Initial cases are mostly young people, who tend to have mild infections anyway,“ Collins said. “We need more data there before we can say confidently that this is not a severe version of the virus. But we should find that out in the next couple weeks.“

Collins said he hoped the new variant would be “one more wake-up call” for those who have yet to be vaccinated.

“It’s clear that in all the previous examples of variants, the vaccines have worked to provide protection,” Collins said.

He added: “The vaccines are your seat belt. Use them.”

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