“The CDC has contacted UK officials and is reviewing their new mortality data related to option B.1.1.7,” a CDC official told CNN on Saturday, using the scientific name of the option, first seen in the UK in November.
So far, studies show that current vaccines will protect against the new version and that wearing masks, social distancing and hand hygiene are key to controlling the spread of the virus.
Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and member of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus transition team, said he had reviewed the UK report, as well as other unpublished data, and was “convinced” that the new option was more deadly.
“The data is increasing – and some I can’t share – which strongly supports that B.1.1.7 causes more serious illnesses and increases deaths,” said Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “We already know that this option has increased the transmission, so this is more bad news.”
A CDC adviser said it would be ideal if American doctors could check and see how patients were coping with the new option compared to patients infected with other options.
But Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said this could be difficult because genomic sequencing – the laboratory work needed to detect new strains – is not very stable in the United States.
“Our current ability to determine if your particular patient has this new strain is very limited, so it really reinforces the perception that other countries have a much greater capacity to do so than we do,” said Schaffner, a member of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on immunization practices.
The UK has one of the strongest genomic sequencing programs in the world. Their report details several studies that compare the severity of the new version with previous ones.
The UK’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Valance, quoted the death toll, adding that the evidence was not yet strong and the data remained uncertain.
“If you take … a man in his 60s, the average risk is that for every 1,000 infected people, about 10 are expected to die, unfortunately, with the virus. With the new option, for 1,000 infected people, approximately 13 or 14 people can be expected to die, “he said on Friday.
“This is a kind of change for this type of age group, an increase from 10 to 13 or 14 out of 1000 and you will see that in different age groups a similar kind of relative increase in risk,” he added.
The analyzes cited in the UK report include analyzes made by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Imperial College London, the University of Exeter and English Public Health.