'Really, Really Bad': Scientists Worry About COVID Variant in US

The variant has been identified in Colorado and California
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 31, 2020 1:50 AM CST
'Really, Really Bad': Scientists React to COVID Variant in US
This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab.   (NIAID-RML via AP)

The coronavirus variant first discovered in the UK is officially in the US, with two cases of it having been confirmed in California and Colorado. The variant quickly gained ground in the UK after being detected in September, now accounting for more than 60% of new infections in London and nearby areas. "I would expect a similar trajectory" in the US, an evolutionary biologist tells the New York Times, which offers a look at how the variant has alarmed US scientists. "The overall picture is pretty grim," says an epidemiologist. While it's not yet clear whether the variant is more deadly or causes more severe symptoms, it is more contagious. "In places like the US and the UK, where the health care system is already at its breaking point, a huge surge of new cases on top of the exponential spread we’re already seeing is going to be really, really bad," a virologist says.

It's possible those infected with the variant will need different care, as it's not yet clear whether it responds differently to treatments. So far, authorities feel the vaccine will still work against it, but as at least one of the mutations found in the variant weakens the body's immune response, experts say vaccines may need to be adjusted regularly in order to stay effective. As PBS explains, coronaviruses do mutate as they spread, but this variant has at least 17 mutations since it diverged—meaning it's evolving more quickly than scientists expected. But one virologists explains to ABC 7 that SARS-CoV-2 is "evolving more slowly than influenza or flu, so that means it's a slower moving target and the vaccine technologies that we're applying here, the two mRNA vaccines, are more adjustable than the influenza or flu vaccine technologies." (More coronavirus stories.)

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