The daily beast
Coronavirus variants are here. Can vaccines continue?
Justin Talis / Getty As the spread of vaccines increases – or in some cases stumbles – in countries around the world, the SARS-CoV-2 strain has released some of its new characteristics, mainly in the form of rapid genetic mutations. Some evidence suggests that variants in recent months have made the virus more contagious or, in one case, possibly more deadly. Variants of the virus are inevitable and often benign. The new coronavirus has probably mutated countless times without attracting the attention of epidemiologists. But new strains identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil and California have paused some infectious disease experts. Several studies have shown that the strain known as variant B1
17, prevalent in the United Kingdom, can be up to 70 percent more susceptible than the original virus. Two analyzes in California suggest that a new strain on the West Coast, called B.1.426, accounts for a quarter of the infections they study. As the news shifts between peaks of infection and efforts to inoculate, it may appear that the world has entered a race between a variant and a vaccine. Is the South African mutation COVID-19 a vaccine killer? “Change through mutation is pretty fast,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, pediatrician and disaster preparedness adviser to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We do not know where he is going. This is the reality that we do not know what to expect. The thing we are more worried about is that it can mutate to become vaccine-resistant or partially vaccine-resistant. That would be awful. We could make changes to the vaccine, but that would slow everything down. “In general, the arrival of new, threatening strains should not change the behavior of the average person,” three epidemiologists and public health advisers told the Daily Beast. “When it comes to vaccines and mitigation, it doesn’t change mitigation strategies because we know that mitigation works,” said Dr. Arnold Monto, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan and a professor of public health. “But that just means we need to be even more serious about complying with that kind of rule.” “I think that, above all, reinforces the urgency of every aspect of the pandemic response,” said Dr. Joshua Scharfstein, deputy dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Not only vaccination, but also testing follow-up, precautions and general vigilance … will take a lot longer than vaccinations, as we don’t have enough vaccines in the short term in general.” UK StrainHealth staff in the UK once announced the discovery of a new strain in mid-December – just a week after becoming the first country in the world to start vaccine. At a news conference, National Health Minister Matt Hancock revealed that the new mutation had been observed in more than 1,000 patients there, sparking a new wave of severe blockades across the country. The strain is believed to date from mid-September. Towards the end of December, its prevalence correlated with a large increase in the number of COVID-19 infections throughout the country. The term “more contagious” can be misleading, Monto said. The data for the new strain do not tell us, for example, that someone exposed to it will become infected faster than someone exposed to the old strain under identical conditions. It refers specifically to the rate at which viruses multiply. “Let’s look at this in terms of what we know,” Monto said. “What we do know is that this virus replicates better. An individual needs less of this virus to cause an infection. How do we know this? We don’t know about this in terms of “people in one room and how much they get infected with one option compared to the other.” But what is very clear is that this virus is more effective and has taken over the old virus. This tells us that there is some advantage in reproduction. The British mutant coronavirus strain overwhelmed the nation, but a worse version arrived on Friday, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing at a news conference that the dominant variant could be as much as 30 percent more deadly than the original. The findings come from an article published by the Advisory Group on New and Emerging Viral Threats, a study that Monto points out is based on a very small number of patients in just a few settings. “Many other things can be linked to increased mortality,” he said, “including when you have, as they do in the UK, more people in care. It’s based on small numbers, so we really can’t say anything right now. We cannot speculate. “It was a statement he made,” Redlener told Johnson, who raised the alarm. “In fact, there was not much evidence to continue. But he came to a conclusion and went public with him … For now, I will say that Boris Johnson should have kept his statement until more evidence emerged. “The strain for South Africa Not long after the British strain was first announced, a variant called B.1.351 emerged in South Africa. According to the CDC, the new strain shares some mutations with its British predecessor. It also seems to have a higher baud rate. What is most worrying about the South African strain, however, is a new mutation in its genetic code that some experts fear may reduce the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Some preliminary studies – several of which have been reviewed – have found that the E484K mutation in the South African variant limits the effectiveness of antibodies by up to 50 percent. “It’s definitely worrying,” Redlener said, citing NBC research report by Richard Engel. “It’s a concern because a legitimate scientist mentioned it. What we do not know is how reliable his research was, which led him to this conclusion. “Monto found the findings less worrying, noting that the research was done on a small volume of research and very few cases in the real world. “The bottom line is that they’re trying to see in a lab if the blood from the vaccines neutralizes the variants, as well as the original virus,” Dr. Monto said. “It seems that they are and to this day there are several newspapers. One says that their test is good. Another says it’s not that good, but it’s still good. “Other strains Another new variant has been found in Japan among four passengers from Brazil, according to the CDC. Although relatively less is known about the Brazilian variant, Reuters reported on Friday that the new strain accounts for nearly half of new infections in Manaus, the largest city in the Brazilian state of Amazonas. A strain of SARS-CoV-2 appeared in Denmark last summer, along with mink production in the country, according to the WHO. The country killed 17 million minks to prevent the virus from spreading to humans. There is a solution. In California, scientists discovered a new variant in late December, shortly after the state suffered its deadliest tide of the pandemic. According to the Los Angeles Times, two research groups observed the new form as they searched for evidence that the British strain was traveling west. Also highly transferable, it now seems to be the fastest growing option in the state. Despite the discovery, local officials and the media largely blamed residents who claimed to have stopped following the blocking instructions. “It’s a very complicated question – what causes a fire in a certain place,” Redlner said. “It’s very much about basic compliance. But on top of that, there may be some other strains that just haven’t been identified. We operate in the dark a lot of things. This is a lot of speculation and speculation. We just have to keep looking. “Read more in The Daily Beast. Get our best stories in your inbox every day. Register now! Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside delves into the stories that matter to you. Find out more.