New COVID-19 Variants



A COVID-19 particle. (CDC/Contributed photo/TNS) Creator: Nathan Lindstrom

Karyna Hetman

With the COVID-19 pandemic still in its peak, new worry has come about as mutations in the virus have brought about new variants. The CDC explains “viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time.” These new strains are being worsened through the same spreading that is keeping the COVID-19 pandemic alive and thriving. Since these mutations are fairly new, there are still a lot of unknowns about the variants, however, the following is what we do know. 

B.1.1.7, the variant originating in the UK, was first detected in September 2020. Most cases have been prominent in London and southeast England, but have also recently been detected in Canada and the United States. The U.S. has accumulated a running total of more than 300 cases in 28 states as of Thursday, January 28. Research has shown this variant is likely to infect cells more easily, making it easier and quicker to spread compared to other variants.

In October 2020, another variant, 1.351, was found in South Africa. It has been proved to share mutations with the UK variant, B.1.1.7. On Thursday, January 28, cases of this variant were found in two different locations in South Carolina from individuals who had not been traveling prior. The World Health Organization states it has been spread to at least 30 other countries. 

Additionally, a new variant found in Brazil, P.1, was found in four travelers from Brazil at a screening check point outside of Tokyo, Japan. This variant contains additional mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies. On Thursday, January 28 the first case to appear in the U.S. was found in Minnesota. The last of the variants is L425R, which was first spotted in California.

A big concern regarding the new variants is how much of a health risk they pose in comparison to COVID-19. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the newly appointed director of the CDC, responds to this with “the variants that have been identified recently seem to spread more easily. They’re more transmissible, which can lead to increased number of cases, and increased stress on our already overtaxed system.” This stresses the importance of following the CDC suggestions for COVID-19 already set in place such as mask wearing and social distancing. 

Public health officials are contributing towards the efforts being made to research whether the current vaccine will work to build immunity from the new variants. As a result of this worry, Pfizer and Moderna are working for another vaccine solution just in case the current one available does not work for the new variants. Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, reports that “the good news is the vaccines as they exist now still would be effective against the mutants. The sobering news…as you get more of the evolution of mutants, which means you always have to be a step ahead of it.”

With these new variants to worry about in addition to COVID-19, it is crucial for everyone to do their own part in slowing down the spread of the pandemic. As vaccines are made more available and more research is done regarding safety measures, it is just as important now to continue wearing masks, social distancing, and refraining from travel.