There's Some Major News About the 2 New COVID Strains
While the strains from the U.K. and South Africa are more contagious, a new study has some good news.
The news of two new strains of the coronavirus—the U.K. variant and the South African variant—have left people around the world concerned that the havoc the virus has already wreaked on the globe was about to get even worse. While viruses mutate frequently at all times (hence the annual flu shot varying in composition from year to year), the two new variants of COVID-19 have concerned scientists and the public. But even though these new variants appear to be far more transmissible than the current dominant strain, there is finally some good news: One of the key vaccines currently being rolled out was just confirmed to be effective against both new strains of the virus. A study undertaken by Pfizer and scientists from University of Texas Medical Branch, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, indicates that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is effective against both the U.K. and South African variants that are currently in circulation. Read on to find out more, and for another update on one of the new strains, check out The U.K. COVID Strain Is Now in These 8 States.
To conduct the research, blood samples were taken from 20 people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Reuters reports. Laboratory studies then found that the samples had neutralizing levels of antibodies that appeared to work on engineered versions of the new strains.
Experts had assumed that the current vaccines would be effective against the U.K. variant, but the South African strain was more cause for concern. Professor Shabir Madhi, who led trials for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in South Africa, told the BBC earlier this week that it's a "reasonable concern" that the "South African variant might be more resistant" to the vaccine. Madhi added that while it's "unlikely" that the mutation would render the current vaccines completely useless, it might "weaken the impact."
However, the Pfizer study seems to "calm any concerns about lack of vaccine coverage for the variants," Daniel Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, told The Guardian. "Neutralization of the variant looks excellent from this study," he added.
Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, added: "This is good news, mainly because it is not bad news…We need to test this in clinical experience and the data on this should be available in the U.K. within the next few weeks." Read on to learn more about the new strains, and for the latest news in the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, find out why Lacking This Vitamin Could Put You at Risk of Severe COVID, New Study Says.
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Both new strains are more contagious than the current dominant strain.
The strain that originated in the United Kingdom, called B.1.1.7, appears to be roughly 50 percent more transmissible than other variants. The South African variant, known as 501.V2, appears to be similarly contagious and is the dominant virus variant in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces of the country.
"South African researchers say they also believe that the new variant is more transmissible, since it has quickly crowded out other versions of the virus circulating in the country," The Wall Street Journal reports. "Still, they say human behavior—with thousands of South Africans crowding into bars, restaurants and beaches—is likely the main reason for the sharp rise in infections in recent weeks." And for more on how the virus is spreading in the States, check out This Is Who Is Most Likely to Give You COVID, New Study Says.
But neither seems to cause more severe illness.
In an update on the new variants posted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, the experts conclude that "there is no evidence" that the U.K. and South African variants cause "more severe illness or increased risk of death." And for one sign of a serious bout with COVID, check out This Rare Symptom Could Mean You Have a Severe COVID Case.
The U.K. strain is starting to spread in the U.S.
The U.K. strain is currently in eight U.S. states: Colorado, California, New York, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Connecticut. California has the most cases of the new variant with 26 confirmed and 4 presumed, with Florida falling not far behind with 22 cases, according to CDC data as of Jan. 7. And for more on states in trouble, check out Dr. Fauci Just Said This State's COVID Situation Is "Unimaginable."
But the South African strain has not yet been detected here.
While the South African strain had made its way to Ireland, the U.K., Japan, France, Switzerland, Austria, and Zambia, CNBC reports, it hasn't yet been found in the U.S. However, Anthony Fauci, MD, predicts it's only a matter of time. "I would be surprised if it were not already in the United States, but you never know until you find it, and then prove it's here," Fauci told Newsweek in an interview published on Jan. 5. He said that, if the South African variant is not already in the U.S., "sooner or later it will get here." And for more from Fauci, check out Dr. Fauci Just Warned About This "Serious" COVID Development.