According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the increased transmissibility of the UK COVID-19 variant warrants “universal and increased compliance with mitigation strategies,” which includes social distancing and the wearing of masks.
UK COVID-19 Variant (B.1.1.7)
- The UK COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.7 was first detected in September 2020. By mid-December, UK officials have noticed that the variant has been spreading rapidly; in response, the UK introduced tighter restrictions on movements and businesses. B.1.1.7 has since been detected in several countries, including Canada and the United States.
- According to the World Health Organization (WHO), clinical findings suggest that the UK COVID-19 variant has increased transmissibility.
- In December 2020, the UK government released a document called Mitigations to Reduce Transmission of the new variant SARS-CoV-2 virus. Some primary actions recommended to reduce virus transmission highlighted in the executive summary includes the reduction of social contact, effective testing and tracing, robust outbreak identification and control, proper support in ensuring effective isolation and quarantine, and population vaccination.
South African COVID-19 Variant (501.V2/ B.1.351)
- The South African COVID-19 variant is reported to be “more concerning” than the UK COVID-19 strain because it is more infectious.
- The variant has been associated with a higher viral load, which may suggest a higher potential for increased transmissibility.
- The variant contains mutations in the spike proteins, E484K and K417N, among others. The E484K mutation was particularly concerning according to Dr. Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London, “because it had been associated with significantly reduced neutralization by antibodies in the laboratory.”
- At this stage, however, there is no clear evidence of the new variant being more dangerous. Being a novel virus, further investigation is required in order to understand the impact on their transmission and clinical severity of infection.
- Evidence suggests that the Pfizer-BioNTech works in neutralizing a key mutation present in COVID-19 variants.
- According to Dr. Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is likely to induce immunity against the UK and South African COVID-19 variants.
- However, more data on the effectiveness of vaccines against the UK and South Africa variants are required. According to the CDC, scientists are working to learn more about the variants, and more studies are still needed to understand how these variants will affect existing therapies and vaccines.
- The World Health Organization announced last month that authorities are urgently investigating “whether the N501Y mutation may have any impact on vaccine performance.”
- A study found that newly emerging, rapid-spreading COVID-19 variants might reduce the protective effects of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. The findings suggest that “vaccine-resistant variants might emerge, meaning that COVID-19 vaccines could need an update.”
- Several of the mutations that exist in the UK COVID-19 variant exists in the “gene that encodes the coronavirus spike protein; changes in the protein could alter the effectiveness of the newly developed vaccines.”
- In a news release, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that COVID-19 viral mutations, including the UK variant, may lead to false-negative results with molecular tests.
- The FDA is currently taking additional actions to ensure that authorized tests remain accurate.
- The FDA believes that the risk that the COVID-19 mutations “will impact overall testing accuracy is low.”
- Studies show that the immune system of recovered COVID-19 patients is able to fight off reinfection for at least six months.
- It is discovered the immune system can of recovered patients evolve to “block the mutated strain of the virus, including the highly contagious South African strain.”
- While re-infections to prior COVID-19 strains were rare, “new mutated strains pose a risk of contracting the novel virus again,” according to scientists. According to Ravi Gupta, a virologist at the University of Cambridge, it is still too early to say how often COVID-19 reinfections may occur.
Variants In The U.S.
- Multiple COVID-19 variants are circulating globally presently. The UK B.1.1.7 variant has been detected in the United States. The COVID-19 variant originating from South Africa, first detected in October 2020, has not been detected in the U.S. Currently, the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant has been detected in 12 U.S. states. State officials are imploring citizens to remain vigilant and to consider the guidelines outlined by the CDC.
- According to the CDC, the variants may “increase the US pandemic trajectory in the coming months.” Using a model to estimate the trajectory of the B.1.1.7 variant, the CDC estimates that the United States will experience rapid growth in cases in the coming weeks, “with the variant becoming the nation’s predominant one sometime in March.”
- The emergence of the COVID-19 variants increases “the percentage of the population that needs to be vaccinated to achieve protective herd immunity to control the pandemic,” according to the CDC.
- The CDC has put a warning and stated that in order to reduce the impact of the new variants, the public must engage in “advised protective measures, including strict isolation and quarantine in cases of infections or possible infections, as well as socially distancing, avoiding large gatherings, using masks in public, and keeping one’s hands clean using hand sanitizer and soap.”
- The current goal is to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases as much as possible while the vaccines continue to roll out. The CDC says that the public should look to get vaccinated for the virus as soon as they’re able to, as this represents the best way to bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end.
- The CDC is tracking cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant in every U.S. state. The data table can be found here.
- U.S. president, Joe Biden, has announced that a ban will be imposed “on most non-U.S. citizens entering the country who have recently been in South Africa” to combat the COVID-19 variant. According to Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC’s principal deputy director, the ban is part of a suite of measures to protect U.S. citizens and to reduce the risk of COVID-19 variants “spreading and worsening the current pandemic.”
- Biden is reimposing an entry ban on nearly all non-U.S. travelers “who have been in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and 26 countries in Europe that allow travel across open borders.”
- CDC’s head, Rochelle Walensky, will sign an order requiring “masks on all airplanes, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-share vehicles for all travelers two and older.”
- A new CDC rule also requires “all international air travelers two and older to present a negative coronavirus test taken within three calendar days of travel or proof of recovery from COVID-19 to enter the United States.”
- Authorities in affected countries are conducting epidemiological and virological investigations to further understand and assess “the transmissibility, severity, risk of reinfection and antibody response to new variants.” According to the WHO, these studies are ongoing.
- National authorities that have reported the novel COVID-19 virus variants are “undertaking intensified sampling to understand how widely these new variants are circulating.”
- WHO is also working with countries to identify how the current surveillance systems can be improved to “evaluate potential virus variations.”
- A working group established by the WHO has collaborated with international scientists that have expertise in virology and coronaviruses “to better understand the research findings and support further studies.”