(HealthDay) – The tragic milestone was reached before a COVID-19 memorial service began in the country’s capital on Tuesday evening: More than 400,000 Americans have since died from the new coronavirus.

“In order to heal, we have to remember,” said President-elect Joe Biden during the illuminated vigil for coronavirus victims at the Lincoln Memorial. “And sometimes it’s hard to remember. But that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here today.”

His words came as a chaotic U.S. vaccine rollout looks to gain momentum in the discovery of new COVID-19 variants that could ultimately compromise the effectiveness of these vaccines.

Most worrying is a variant that first appeared in South Africa but has not yet been discovered in the United States. A new laboratory study suggests that someone can potentially be infected with the South African variant even if they have previously had COVID-19 or been vaccinated.

“I think we should be alarmed,” lead study author Penny Moore, associate professor at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa, told CNN. The results of your team have been published on the BioRxiv preprint server and have not yet been reviewed by experts.

“Based on Penny’s data, it’s likely that the vaccine will be a little less effective, but how much less effective we don’t know,” David Montefiori, a virologist at Duke University Medical Center, told CNN. “This is the first time I’ve been concerned about a variant that eludes part of the immune response and part of the vaccine.”

Both experts stressed that people should get the vaccine anyway. It’s extremely effective against other forms of the virus, and they believe it will likely still offer some protection against the new variant.

In the study, Moore and her colleagues took blood from 44 people who already had COVID-19. It has been confirmed that almost all cases occurred before September before the variant was discovered in South Africa.

The researchers then examined whether their antibodies would fight off the new variant.

For about half of the 44 people, their antibodies against the new variant were powerless.

“We saw a knockout,” said Moore. “It was a frightening result.”

For the other half the antibody response was weakened but not completely switched off.

The analysis showed that the strongest antibody response came from those who had suffered more severe cases of COVID-19. The culprits were mutations in two different parts of the spikes that sit on the coronavirus. The vaccines target these peaks.

“It was a two-armed escape from the immune system,” Moore told CNN.

Her team is now collecting blood from people who have been vaccinated to see if their antibodies can fight off the new variant.

“I think the data on people with previous infection raises all kinds of red flags for the vaccines,” she said. “We have to test it to find out.”

Still, it may not be time to panic: Montefiori believes the vaccine will likely get a hit – but probably not a big one.

“We need to remember that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 95% effective – that is an extraordinary level of effectiveness,” said Montefiori. “If it gets down to 90, 80, 70%, it’s still very, very good and probably has a big impact on the pandemic.”

Biden describes the massive vaccination effort

President-elect Joe Biden has unveiled an ambitious national vaccination plan that will provide far more people with coronavirus vaccines and introduce a law of war to increase vaccine production.

He pledged to increase the availability of vaccinations in pharmacies, build mobile clinics to provide vaccines for underserved rural and urban communities, and encourage states to extend immunization eligibility to those 65 and over, the New York Times reported. Biden also vowed to make racial justice a priority in fighting a virus that has disproportionately infected and killed minorities.

“Our plan is as clear as it is bold: get more people to vaccinate for free, create more places to be vaccinated, mobilize more medical teams to get the shots into people’s arms, increase supplies and get it out the door asap, “he said. “You have my word … we will make hell out of this operation.”

However, Biden is faced with a stark reality: With only two government-approved vaccines in circulation, supply is likely to be limited in the next few months.

Even if Biden invokes the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, the vaccine shortage may take some time to address. The law has already been enforced with important but limited effects, the Times reported. Biden has pledged to build mass vaccination centers and develop new programs for high-risk people, including the developmentally disabled and prison inmates. However, these promises will only be met if vaccines are available.

“It doesn’t mean that everyone in this group gets vaccinated right away as the care is not where it needs to be,” admitted Biden. But as soon as new cans become available, he promised, “We will reach more people who need them.”

The vaccine distribution plan comes a day after Biden proposed a $ 1.9 trillion pandemic “rescue” package that includes $ 20 billion in vaccine expenses. Biden has repeatedly said that by his 100th day in office, he intends to “get 100 million COVID vaccination shots into the arms of the American people”.

As of Wednesday, nearly 15.7 million Americans had been vaccinated while over 31 million doses had been distributed, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just over 2 million people received their second shot.

A global scourge

As of Wednesday, the number of U.S. coronavirus cases was 24.3 million, while the death toll was 401,800, according to a Times tally. As of Wednesday, the top five states for coronavirus infections were: California with nearly 3.1 million cases; Texas with nearly 2.2 million cases; Florida with nearly 1.6 million cases; New York with nearly 1.3 million cases; and Illinois with nearly 1.1 million cases.

Containing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains a challenge.

In India, the number of coronavirus cases was over 10.6 million as of Wednesday, according to a report by Johns Hopkins University. Brazil had nearly 8.6 million cases and over 211,400 deaths on Wednesday, the Hopkins tally showed.

Globally, the number of reported infections surpassed 96.3 million on Wednesday, with over 2 million deaths recorded according to Hopkins’ balance sheet.

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