Dr. Fauci Says Pandemic Could Get Worse As Threat of New Variants Looms

President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has said the COVID pandemic could get worse, with cases in the U.S. remaining high and variants of the virus posing a new threat.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), appeared on MSNBC Thursday morning, where co-host Joe Scarborough asked whether he expected the pandemic to get worse.

"I think it potentially could get worse," Fauci said. He said it was good news that cases appeared to be plateauing, a pattern that should be followed by fewer hospitalizations and deaths.

"Superimposed upon the good news is the sobering news that we still have a lot of cases and we still have a very serious issue here. And the thing that's troublesome now that we really need to keep our eye on is these variants."

According to COVID Tracking Project data released on Thursday, the seven-day average of COVID cases in the U.S. was at its lowest since November 30 and has dropped by more than 30 percent since a peak on January 12. Experts recently told Newsweek the decline followed a spike in infections during the holiday season, when people went against CDC advice by gathering and traveling.

As the pandemic has spread across the country, a number of new, concerning COVID variants have emerged, including B.1.1.7 from the U.K. and 501Y.V2 from South Africa. Both are believed to be at least 50 percent more infectious than the original form of the virus.

Fauci said the U.K. has some "significant issues" with B.1.1.7, which has been found in at least 28 U.S. states and infected over 300 people. However, the vaccines being distributed appear able to contain this form of the virus, he said.

Of "greater concern" and "most problematic of them all" was 501Y.V2, which in test tubes appeared to evade antibodies to some extent. It is feared they may have the same effect in people, he said. Earlier this year, Fauci told Newsweek it is likely the South African variant is already spreading undetected in the U.S.

The potential threats the variants pose mean it is imperative as many people as possible get vaccinated, Fauci told MSNBC. "The more you get vaccinated, you give the virus less of a chance to evolve into a mutant form that you'd then have more trouble with," he said.

COVID vaccine makers Moderna and Pfizer have said they are developing booster shots against the South African variant in case they are required.

Fauci said: "On the one hand things are looking a bit better about plateauing, but on the other hand we could have some difficult times that we have to be prepared for."

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Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a White House press briefing on January 21, 2021 in Washington, DC. Fauci has said scientists are concerned about a COVID variant from South Africa. Alex Wong/Getty Images