- A mutated variant of COVID-19 that emerged in the UK was discovered in Colorado on December 29th, 2020
- This new strain appears to spread much faster than the original strain but does not seem to be more deadly
- Experts still believe that the vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech will be effective in preventing infection with the new strain
A new COVID variant has recently been discovered in Colorado
On December 29th, Colorado reported a case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7. The individual who tested positive for this variant had no recent travel out of the country and is currently in isolation.
This variant was detected through PCR testing, which revealed 8 spike protein mutations of SARS-CoV-2 specific to this new variant. Dr. Atul Gawande predicts that more states will begin reporting cases of the new variant in the coming days.
Mutations in viruses (including COVID-19) are not unexpected
According to Stuart Ray, M.D., Vice-Chair of Medicine for Data Integrity and Analytics, new strains of viruses occur when there is a change (mutation) to the virus’ genes. Ray says it is the nature of RNA viruses such as the coronavirus to evolve and change gradually. “Geographic separation tends to result in genetically distinct strains,” he says.
Therefore, virus mutations, including mutations to the coronavirus, are really not surprising or unexpected. Flu viruses change often as well as a number of viruses. According to John Hopkins Medicine, as the coronavirus continues to spread across the population, mutations of the virus will continue to appear.
Scientists say the coronavirus vaccine will still be effective against the new strain of COVID-19
The two vaccines that have been approved in the U.S. were created by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. Both companies are confident that their vaccines will still be effective against the new strain of COVID-19, as they are created to work even when the virus mutates.
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Most of the sites on the virus that trigger an immune response have not been affected by the new mutations; therefore, the vaccine should still prompt the body to create antibodies to fight against the new strain.
Both companies will be testing their vaccine on the new strain to ensure that it is still effective. Experts are still urging the public to receive the vaccine, as it is our best shot at ending the COVID-19 pandemic. It will take researchers about 2 weeks to fully understand how effective the vaccine will be in preventing infection with the new strain of COVID-19.
If the vaccine is not as effective in preventing against the new strain of COVID-19, Pfizer-BioNTech can produce a new vaccine within 6 weeks
BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin states that “it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variant.” Nonetheless, he reported to the Financial Times that because the COVID vaccine was made using mRNA technology, a new vaccine could be made within 6 weeks if necessary.
The COVID variant first appeared in the United Kingdom
This new COVID-19 variant began to spread in the UK in September. It now accounts for over 60% of COVID-19 cases in London. This variant is not just spreading in the UK but in Germany, Australia, Italy, France, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada, Singapore, and India among others. A different variant also appears to be spreading in South Africa.
Hospitals in the UK have been overwhelmed by the growing cases of COVID-19, which reached a total of 53,135 coronavirus cases. However, the UK is the first country to approve the vaccine made by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. With this vaccine available to the public, the UK plans to vaccinate 1 million people each week and get the spread of COVID-19 under control.
While the variant isn’t deadlier, it is more infectious than the previously identified coronavirus
Public health experts in the UK believe that the new strain of COVID-19 is 70% more transmissible than the original strain. This means that it is much easier to spread and catch the new strain. While scientists are not entirely sure why this strain is spreading faster, some believe that becoming infected with it results in a higher viral load or more of the virus in your body.
However, the CDC notes that there is no current indication that this new strain of COVID-19 is more deadly than the original strain.
More questions about the COVID-19 vaccine? See our resources below: