A new strain of COVID-19 identified by researchers in the UK has raised concerns about the possibility of a more infectious variant of the coronavirus entering the US when cases are at a peak.
The UK health authorities first informed the World Health Organization on December 14th about the new variant, which has 14 mutations and is known as VUI – 202012/01 or B.1.1.7. VUI stands for "examined variant".
A preprint with additional details on the variant was published the following day by researchers at the University of Cambridge. (A preprint is a type of early-stage medical study that has not yet been peer-reviewed. It has become a common way of disseminating scientific research during the pandemic.)
The strain was identified from approximately 250,000 sequenced genomes from people who tested positive for COVID-19. The UK has sequenced between 5% and 10% of the country's roughly 2.1 million COVID-19 samples, according to the WHO. (By comparison, the U.S. sequenced approximately 51,000 of the 17 million positive tests, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they had not identified this variant.)
According to the preprint, the mutation was found in around 3,000 or 2.5% of the 246,534 SARS-CoV-2-sequenced genomes that were stored in a central database from mid-December. As a result, "restricting transmission takes on a new urgency," the researchers wrote. The strain has increased since August, particularly in Denmark and the UK, where there were 1,108 cases on December 11th.
How did the governments react?
The affirmation of the new tribe has raised concern among governments around the world.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on December 20 that the new strain "appears to be easier to spread and can be up to 70% more communicable than the previous strain". The countries of the European Union and Canada have now closed their borders to the UK, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called on the federal government to suspend flights from the UK to the US (at least three airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Delta Air Lines Inc.).
and British Airways have now agreed to test passengers flying from the UK to New York.)
Why is this mutation strain so important?
The coronavirus, which China first notified world health officials on December 31, has mutated several times.
Most notably, researchers said in May and June that there were two dominant strains at the time – the D614 virus, which originated in Wuhan, China and was likely brought to the west coast by travelers earlier in the year, and a mutant strain that came via Europe to New York (and the rest of the USA). This G614 virus is considered to be the dominant strain in the US today. It is also considered to be much more infectious than the D614 virus, although it is unclear why.
However, public health officials warn of overreacting to the new variant as there are no unknowns about how it behaves and whether it is actually more contagious.
Public Health England said this week that "the new variant is more likely to transmit than the previous one, but there is no evidence that it is more likely to cause serious illness or death." The CDC made a similar statement, saying, "At this time there is not enough information to determine whether this variant is associated with a change in clinical disease severity, antibody response, or vaccine effectiveness."
"This new variant came at a time of the year when family and social intermingling has traditionally increased," the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention said this week. "There is currently no evidence of an increased severity of infection in connection with the new variant."
Will the new variant affect the immune response triggered by COVID-19 vaccines?
We do not know it. The CDC and WHO have announced that there is currently insufficient information to know whether the strain may question the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. However, the CDC warned that this could become a problem, but it is not currently one.
"The ability to evade vaccine-induced immunity is probably the most worrying, as vaccination of a large part of the population creates an immune pressure that could encourage and accelerate the development of such variants by opting for 'escape mutants'. # 39; decides. " CDC said. "There is no evidence that this is happening."
who developed a COVID-19 vaccine with Pfizer Inc.
The company, which is now approved in a handful of countries, wants to reassure the public that their vaccine will remain an effective tool to protect against the virus.
"As the virus becomes more efficient at infecting people, we may even need higher vaccination rates to ensure normal life can continue uninterrupted," BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told the Wall Street Journal this week. He said at a press conference on Tuesday that "it is scientifically very likely that the immune response of this vaccine can also deal with the new virus variants."
Brian Abrahams of RBC Capital Markets told investors that even if a mutated form of the virus lowers vaccine efficacy rates, it "would have only a modest impact on the time to herd immunity."
The shares of the three companies with COVID-19 vaccines approved by the Food and Administration fell in trading on Tuesday. Moderna Inc.
declined 9.4%, while Pfizer stock fell 1.5% and BioNTech stock fell 7.1%. The S&P 500
was down 0.1%.