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Experts worry variant-fueled surge of Covid-19 could be weeks away but cases will likely fall again by summer

Hear why this expert is optimistic about vaccines' efficacy

(CNN)Coronavirus infections across the US are still on the way down and more Americans are getting their vaccinations -- but variants could cause complications in the coming weeks.

Several experts predicted Tuesday the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant that was first detected in the UK is likely to fuel another surge of cases in just a matter of weeks.

"It could result in more of a wave in, say, April or May than we would have expected otherwise," Trevor Bedford of the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said during a briefing sponsored by the center. "But I still do suspect that things will be brought under control in the summer, and there will be very little virus circulating."

The predicted surge is why many experts have highlighted the need to double down on safety measures like face masks, social distancing and avoiding crowded areas. Helping to lower cases will also give the virus less of a chance to spread further and mutate, experts have said.

Vaccinating as many people as possible will also be a big help in slowing any more surges -- but Dr. Josh Schiffer, an infectious diseases specialist at Fred Hutchinson, said the new, infectious variants make it "difficult to prevent a fourth wave altogether."

To speed up vaccinations, one report suggests the US should consider skipping second doses for now. People over 65 should go to the front of the line since they're by far the most vulnerable to severe disease and death, according to a recommendation from Mike Osterholm and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

The group called on Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine advisers to be quickly convened and determine whether data supports the group's recommendations, including deferring second vaccine doses to after the coming surge.

"There is a narrow and rapidly closing window of opportunity to more effectively use vaccines and potentially prevent thousands of severe cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the next weeks and months," the report said.

Officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said in recent days the US is continuing to vaccinate people with both doses and close to the recommended schedules, with Fauci telling CNN earlier this week, "science points directly toward continuing with what we know about from the clinical trial."

A pharmacist fills syringes with doses of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine at a pop-up community vaccination center in Valley Stream, New York, this month

So far, more than 1,900 cases of coronavirus strains first spotted in the UK, South Africa and Brazil have been reported across the US, CDC data shows.

The vast majority of those cases -- about 1,881 -- are of the B.1.1.7 variant that's concerning experts and that the CDC has previously warned could become the predominant variant by next month.

Meanwhile, two studies that are due to come out soon also raise concerns about the variant's impact in California.

The studies hint that the variant might not only be more contagious but may also cause more severe disease. But the research is in its very early stages, has not been published or peer-reviewed and needs more work, researchers stressed.

A team at the University of California, San Francisco, tested virus samples from recent outbreaks across the state and found it was becoming far more common: while it wasn't seen in any samples from September, by the end of January it was found in half of the samples.

The researchers also found some evidence suggesting the variant is more dangerous, writing in a report that they observed "increased severity of disease" associated with the variant, including "increased risk of high oxygen requirement."

A second team at Unidos en Salud -- a volunteer-led collaboration between UC San Francisco and other groups that offers fast Covid-19 testing in San Francisco's Mission District -- tested more than 8,800 people in January and sequenced the virus from more than 630 positive samples. They also found a rapid increase in the variant.

FDA could OK storing Pfizer vaccine at standard temps

Concerned about the variants, US officials continue to work to ramp up vaccinations.

The New York Times reported Tuesday the FDA plans to authorize a request from Pfizer allowing the vaccine maker to store its vaccines at regular freezer temperatures instead of the ultra-cold levels required up to now.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech submitted data to the FDA on Friday showing its vaccine can be safely stored at temperatures higher than what is currently required for long-term storage. The Times quoted two sources familiar with the companies, who requested anonymity, saying the FDA informed the companies it would OK that request.

The move could greatly ease logistics for not just the companies, but the federal government, states and other groups that have been working to distribute those vaccines.

That piece of news comes as Pfizer and Moderna pledged to make a combined total of 220 million doses available for shipment by the end of March. Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson, which could get the green light for its own Covid-19 vaccine from the FDA later this week, has pledged to make 20 million doses available in that same time frame.

So far, about 44.5 million Americans have received at least their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to CDC data. More than 19.8 million have been fully vaccinated -- a little more than 6% of the US population.

Among one of several challenges that states are facing while getting shots in arms is racial disparities.

In California, officials said it will make changes to the statewide Covid-19 vaccine-appointment system after access codes distributed to underserved communities were used by outsiders to secure vaccines.

Recent data shows that Black and Latino residents collectively have received a combined 19% of the state's vaccine doses while accounting for nearly 60% of California's Covid-19 cases. In contrast, White residents have been given 32.7% of vaccine doses while making up about 20% of the state's cases.

CNN's Maggie Fox, Sarah Moon, Cheri Mossburg, Amanda Sealy and Michael Nedelman contributed to this report.