Science Says Sunday – New Year, New Virus? Not exactly.

2020 simply won’t stop y’all. Or should I say, 2016? I digress. But, really, where do we go from here? I don’t know. I do know one thing: This does not help in anyway the situation we have happening in the US with COVID-19. In fact, 2021 has new virus variations (note I didn’t say new virus) in town and they are not nice.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard about two variations of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus that are circulating in some countries (eg UK and South Africa), one which has now been identified in some states in the US. Both strains are associated with severe waves of cases in the UK and South Africa, making many worry about the implications of spread of those strains here in the US. The one we’ve identified in other countries and the US is called the VOC-202012/01 variant or B117. The variant first observed in South Africa is called the 501.V2 or B1351.

According to the CDC, there are a few things we know and do not know about these new variants.

What we do not know

Scientists are working to learn more about these variants, and more studies are needed to understand:

  • How widely these new variants have spread
  • How the new variants differ
  • How the disease caused by these new variants differs from the disease caused by other variants that are currently circulating

What it means

Public health officials are studying these variants quickly to learn more to control their spread. They want to understand whether the variants:

  • Spread more easily from person to person
  • Cause milder or more severe disease in people
  • Are detected by currently available viral tests
  • Respond to medicines currently being used to treat people for COVID-19
  • Change the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. There is no evidence that this is occurring, and most experts believe this is unlikely to occur because of the nature of the immune response to the virus.

Early research suggests the variants are 30-50% more transmissible, and currently, there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death. Still, more transmissible does mean that in the absence of stay-at-home orders and/or increased mitigation strategies, these variants may continue to overwhelm our health systems. Early data also suggest the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine should also work to protect against the B117. Given the similarity between the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, one would surmise the same to be true of the Moderna vaccine, however, I haven’t yet seen that data. Will be sure to share when I do!

So, while we wait for additional information about these two variants: Stay home, wear a mask, wash your hands, avoid poorly ventilated spaces, and disinfect high-touch surfaces. Be safe, friends.

Sources:

Genetic Variants of SARS-CoV-2—What Do They Mean?

Investigation of novel SARS-CoV-2 variant. Variant of Concern 202012/01. Technical briefing 3

New COVID-19 Variants

The 2nd Covid-19 wave in South Africa:Transmissibility & a 501.V2 variant

Emerging SARS-CoV-2 Variants

Neutralization of N501Y mutant SARS-CoV-2 by BNT162b2 vaccine-elicited sera

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