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Feb. 2, 2021, 2:31 p.m. EST

U.S. has administered at least one coronavirus vaccine dose to nearly 8% of the population

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Ciara Linnane

The number of Americans who have received at least a first dose of a vaccine against the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 now equals the number confirmed to have had the illness since the start of the outbreak last year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that through 6 a.m. on Monday, 32.2 million doses had been administered and 26 million Americans had received one or two doses, matching the U.S. confirmed case tally, as recorded by Johns Hopkins University. The tracker shows that almost 50 million doses have been delivered to states.

The news comes as cases and hospitalization numbers are declining in at least 47 states, although experts continue to urge caution and compliance with safety measures given new, more infectious variants that have emerged in several states.

The most worrying is the South Africa variant, which appears less responsive to the vaccines that have received emergency-use authorization and which has been found in South Carolina and Maryland.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the U.S. needs to step up its surveillance of the virus and conduct more genomic sequencing, so that experts know when mutations arise.

Speaking at a Washington Post live-streamed event, Fauci said scientists need to be prepared to upgrade vaccines if they evolve to evade the antibodies provided by vaccines.

“The fact that the South Africa mutant has been recognized in people who have not traveled there means we have community spread, and it’s not going to be restricted to a few people,” Fauci said. “It’s here, and it’s likely to spread more.”

The good news is that vaccines can be modified, and the science can stay a few steps ahead, he said. But the best way to contain a virus is to suppress replication of the virus in the community, he said, “which means we need to vaccinate as many people as we possibly can and as efficiently as we can.”

See also: The new South African strain is more infectious, and it’s also making COVID-19 vaccines less effective

At the same time, the U.S. needs to ramp up vaccine development and to add new ones to the mix, he said, naming as examples Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose regimen, and Novavax’s candidate, both of which have proved effective in recent trials. J&J said Friday it is planning to apply for an EUA shortly.

There was more positive vaccine news Tuesday, when researchers at the medical journal the Lancet said data from the Russian Sputnik V vaccine trial found it has 91.6% efficacy against symptomatic COVID. The finds were based on an analysis of data from the trial involving more than 20,000 adults, three-quarters of whom received the vaccine and not the placebo.

Read now: As new coronavirus strains raise questions about mask quality, the N95 market in the U.S. is still facing supply issues

The news was welcome, with Russia having started to administer the vaccine before completing clinical trials, raising concerns about its safety profile. There were no serious adverse events associated with it, apart from mild ones such as pain at the injection site or low energy, according to the Lancet.

Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean and professor of health services, policy and practice at the Brown University School of Public Health, said the world needs as many safe vaccines as possible.

The U.S. added at least 139,293 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 1,990 people died. But case numbers are falling and averaged just 146,409 a day in the past week, down 29% from the average two weeks ago.

The COVID Tracking Project counted 93,536 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals on Monday, down from 95,013 a day earlier and the lowest number since Nov. 29.

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