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Anthony Fauci urged Americans Wednesday to get vaccinated to halt the spread of the highly transmissible COVID-19 variant first discovered in India, which currently accounts for 6% of infections in the U.S.

Why it matters: The United Kingdom has seen an explosion in new cases as a result of the variant, which is now the dominant strain and may be associated with increased disease severity.

  • The U.K. reported 7,540 new cases on Wednesday, a surge that has largely been driven by virus spread among unvaccinated young people.
  • Evidence suggests the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are highly effective against the variant, a fact that Fauci cited to highlight the urgent need for more Americans to get vaccinated.

What he's saying: "We cannot declare victory prematurely because there is still a substantial portion of people who have not been vaccinated," Fauci said Wednesday on CNN.

  • "We don't want to let happen in the United States what is happening currently in the U.K., where you have a troublesome variant essentially taking over as the dominant variant," he continued.
  • "We have within our power to do that by getting people vaccinated, because we have very, very good vaccines."

The big picture: The pace of vaccinations is waning in the U.S. Last week, there was a 13% decrease in vaccinations as compared to the week before, according to the Washington Post.

  • In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson is considering halting his plans to fully reopen society on June 21 as a result of the new surge, according to the Washington Post.
  • President Biden has also sounded alarm over the situation in the U.K. and urged young Americans to get vaccinated. "If you’re young and haven’t gotten your shot yet, it really is time. It’s the best way to protect yourself and those you love," Biden wrote in a tweet Tuesday afternoon.

Go deeper

Updated Jan 15, 2021 - Health

The coronavirus variants: What you need to know

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New variants of the coronavirus circulating globally appear to increase transmission and are being closely monitored by scientists.

Driving the news: The highly contagious variant B.1.1.7 originally detected in the U.K. could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March if no measures are taken to control the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

Jan 28, 2021 - Health

South Carolina reports first-known U.S. cases of South African COVID variant

A health care worker giving a patient a dose of coronavirus vaccine in an assisted living home in Sumter, S.C., on Jan. 26. Photo: Micah Green/Bloomberg via Getty Images

South Carolina health officials have reported the first-known U.S. COVID-19 cases of a fast-spreading variant discovered in South Africa, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Thursday.

Why it matters: Though the CDC has "no evidence that infections by this variant cause more severe disease," preliminary data indicates it may spread faster and more easily than other variants.

Jan 30, 2021 - Health

Maryland reports case of South Africa coronavirus variant

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan during a press conference in Annapolis in December 2020. Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Saturday that the potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant first discovered in South Africa has been identified in the state.

Why it matters: Maryland is the second state to confirm a known case of the B.1.351 variant. Although there is no evidence that infections by this variant cause more severe disease, preliminary data indicates that it spreads faster and more easily than the original coronavirus strain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.