This is the most recently-discovered Covid-19 variant on the list, and it is believed to have originated in California. A study from Cedars Sinai published on January 18, 2021, claims that this new strain was found in more than one-third of Covid-19 cases in Los Angeles, and it may be contributing to the acceleration of the recent surge of cases across Southern California.
It isn’t clear whether the new variant is more contagious or just becoming more easily identifiable as laboratories perform genome sequencing.
Wenjuan Zhang, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Cedars-Sinai, said that the research team is "not sure what the new findings mean in terms of the infectivity and antibody resistance of the CAL.20C strain, which is important for follow-up studies that will need to be completed."
The variant that’s assumed to have originated in the UK was the first strain to cause alarm among experts around Christmas time. It is now known that this strain doesn't cause a more severe illness and doesn't raise mortality rates, but it is significantly more contagious. In a previous article, we have detailed exactly how the UK variant differs in structure from the Covid-19 strain we’re familiar with, and how this mutation helps it spread faster.
The latest studies conducted by Pfizer indicate that the vaccine appears to be effective against this variant, according to CNBC. While this is definitely encouraging, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), warned the public not to take the UK strain lightly. It is still far from being contained, so it’s vital for everyone to continue abiding by social distancing measures.
This particular strain is believed to have originated in South Africa, and it is possibly the most concerning one, as experts fear that it has the potential to evade vaccines. This variant has a new pattern of mutation, which causes more physical alterations in the structure of the spike protein compared to the UK strain.
Vaccine makers and academic researchers are currently testing samples of this variant to verify these claims and see if it can indeed evade the immune response caused by vaccination. It should be noted that many experts have an optimistic view and think that the vaccine will ultimately work against it. We will have to wait until more research is available. As of now, the South African variant is yet to be detected in the US.
Two new strains were detected in Brazil, too. One variant was found in almost half of the people in one survey done in Manaus, Brazil, according to the CDC, while the other variant is far less widespread. The second variant did, however, make its way to the UK and was found in at least 11 people there.
As far as the transmissibility rates, scientists say that the new strains from Brazil are likely to be more infectious, just as the strains from the UK and South Africa have proven to be. However, Felipe Naveca, a researcher in the Amazonas branch of Fiocruz, Brazil’s national medical research body, pointed out to Time magazine that there are other possible factors for the surge in Covid-19 cases in Manaus.
Namely, he referred to a lack of social distancing and a change in the season that probably helped COVID-19 to spread in the recent weeks. “We still can’t confirm what is the role of this new variant in the recent explosion of cases, we need to do more work to confirm how common it is,” he said.
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