Scientists are not surprised to see the coronavirus change and evolve; after all, it’s what viruses do. And with so much uncontrolled spread in the US and other parts of the world, the virus has many opportunities to do just that.
Four of the new variants are of particular concern.
‘Variants that have been recently identified seem to spread more easily. They are more communicable, which can lead to higher numbers of cases and greater stress on our already overloaded system,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the newly appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). , in a briefing on Wednesday.
What scientists fear most is a mutation to the point of causing more serious disease, bypassing the ability of tests to detect it, or bypassing the protection provided by vaccination. While some of the newer variants appear to have changes that appear to affect the immune response, it is only a matter of degree.
Governments are already reacting. Colombia banned flights from Brazil and Brazil banned flights from South Africa. It is almost certainly too late to stop the spread, and there are indications that mutations in these variants are emerging independently and in multiple locations.
Variant B.1.1.7 has been detected in 28 states
At the top of the list for researchers in the US is variant B.1.1.7 that was first seen in Britain. The CDC has warned that it could worsen the spread of the pandemic. They report more than 300 cases in 28 states, but those are only the cases detected by genomic sequencing, which is unpredictable in the US.
Although hearing about new mutant viruses can scare people, scientists say they are reassured by what they have discovered: The human immune system can handle the variants that have emerged so far, especially B.1.1.7.
“As far as we know, it is transmitted in exactly the same way,” Gregory Armstrong, director of the CDC’s Office of Advanced Molecular Detection, told Citizen Free Press.
That means the same known measures to reduce the spread will also stop the new variants: wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding large groups or crowds, and frequent hand washing.
However, mutations in the variant help it enter cells more easily, meaning that if someone, he says, inhales a puff of air that has virus particles in it, those particles are more likely to infect some cells in the sinus. nostrils or lungs instead of bouncing harmlessly.
The worrisome changes increase the spike protein that the virus uses to attach itself to cells, meaning that people are more likely to become infected from exposure.
Therefore, people should do more to prevent the spread until vaccination can be expedited.
“To interrupt transmission, we will need higher rates than we do to slow down transmission,” Armstrong said. “We will have to pay more attention to the use of masks. And we will need to increase vaccine coverage.
There have been some confusing reports as to whether B.1.1.7 has caused more serious illness in Britain.
“The most recent data indicates from the UK that it appears to be a bit more virulent in the sense that it could cause more serious disease,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr Anthony Fauci said in a webcast. on Thursday sponsored by the National Education Association.
B.1.351 was detected in South Carolina
The variant that was first seen in South Africa called B.1.351 or 501Y.V2 was first reported in the United States on Thursday, in South Carolina.
The two people lived in different parts of the state and neither had recently traveled, although Dr. Brannon Traxler, acting director of public health for the health department, declined to say whether that indicated the variant must be spreading in the community.
It has been seen in more than 30 countries, according to the World Health Organization.
“The variant that was first detected in South Africa has spread rapidly beyond Africa, so what is keeping me awake at the moment is that it is most likely circulating in several African countries,” said Thursday the Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
It has a different pattern of mutations that causes more physical alterations in the structure of the peak protein than B.1.1.7. One important mutation, called E484K, appears to affect the receptor-binding domain, the part of the spike protein most important for binding to cells.
It could help the virus partly escape the effects of vaccines. “There is more concern about immune leakage,” Armstrong said. Vaccine manufacturers and academic researchers are testing samples of this variant, along with others, to see if it can evade the immune response caused by vaccination.
Fauci says that even so, there is an additional buffer of immunity caused by vaccination. Give some leeway. ‘The good news is that vaccines as they exist now would still be effective against mutants. The sobering news… as you get more and more replicas, you can get more and more mutant evolution, which means you always get to be one step ahead, ”Fauci told Citizen Free Press on Monday.
Teams at Columbia University, Columbia University’s Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, and elsewhere have also been testing lab versions of the viral mutations against the blood of vaccinated people and say that while there appears to be an effect somewhat diminished from vaccination, still not enough to weaken protection.
But Maryland-based vaccine maker Novavax released preliminary results of its coronavirus vaccine on Thursday that showed that while the vaccine was more than 89% effective in a Phase 3 trial in Britain, a Smaller earlier Phase 2 trial conducted in South Africa while the variant was circulating showed an efficacy of only 60%.
Just in case, Pfizer and Moderna say they are working to make booster vaccines that would address the mutant versions. The vaccine design is intended to make the process quick and easy; just plug in a new version of the genetic code used to generate the vaccines.
There is also evidence that the changes may help escape monoclonal antibody treatments by Eli Lilly and Co. and Regeneron, as well.
The P.1 appeared in Minnesota this week
A variant suspected of fueling a resurgence of viral spread in Brazil appeared in Minnesota for the first time this week. It was in a traveler from Brazil, so there is still no indication of community spread.
This variant, called P.1, was found in 42% of the specimens in a survey conducted in the Brazilian city of Manaus, and Japanese officials found the variant in four travelers from Brazil.
“The appearance of this variant raises concerns about a possible increase in the transmissibility or propensity for reinfection of individuals with SARS-CoV-2,” the CDC said. P.1 also carries the E484K mutation.
The L425R appeared in California and a dozen states
Finally, there is a new variant seen in California, as well as a dozen other states. “We still don’t know what that means,” Armstrong said. It also has a mutation in the receptor-binding domain of the spike protein. It’s called L425R, and while it’s commonly found, it’s still unclear if it’s more transmissible.
Any viral strain can become more common due to what is known as the founder effect. “The founder effect is a matter of a virus being in the right place at the right time,” Armstrong said. If a particular strain circulates when transmission increases due to human behavior, that strain will go ahead and become more common not because it spreads more easily, but simply because it was there.
More studies will be needed to show whether these variants can increase the already astronomical spread of the virus. The United States has more than 25 million diagnosed cases and more than 430,000 deaths.
“The emergence of variants underscores the need for public health action,” advised Walensky.
First, get vaccinated when it’s your turn. Also, some people may need help getting vaccinated; Consider helping your neighbors and loved ones schedule or travel to appointments. Second, wear a mask. Practice social distancing and wash your hands. And finally, now is not the time to travel.
News that matters for Citizens.