Medical worker Christina Mathers attends to an unconscious patient who is holding the patient’s hand in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas on December 21, 2020.
Go Nakamura | Getty Images
The new strain of coronavirus, which was first detected in the UK, could already be in circulation in the US without notice, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.
While the variant has not yet been found in the US, the CDC noted that scientists have not sequenced the genetic coding for many Covid-19 Infections here. The agency said “Viruses have only been sequenced from about 51,000 of the 17 million US cases,” so the new strain could have failed.
“Ongoing travel between the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the high prevalence of this variant in current infections in the United Kingdom, increases the likelihood of imports,” said a CDC statement. “Given the low proportion of US infections sequenced, the variant could already be in the US without being discovered.”
The new variant is currently known as “SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01”, according to the CDC. It was spread across south east England in November and is reported to make up 60% of recent infections in London, the agency said. The CDC said it did not know why the new strain of the virus showed up, but it could have “just happened by accident”.
“Alternatively, it may arise because it is better suited to spread in humans,” said the CDC. “This rapid change from a rare strain to a common strain has affected scientists in the UK who are urgently evaluating the characteristics of the variant strain and the disease it causes.”
The new coronavirus “mutates regularly,” the CDC noted, but the vast majority of the mutations are insignificant. The meaning of the new variant, first found in the UK, has yet to be determined, but the CDC noted that based on earlier data from the UK, the new strain “may have the potential to be more quickly transmissible than other circulating strains”.
The CDC noted that there have been multiple mutations of the coronavirus. Scientists are studying how this affects its ability to spread, or whether it has become more deadly or led to milder infections.
Scientists are also investigating whether the changes make testing less effective, the CDC said, adding that the Covid-19 tests are designed to detect the virus in different ways, “so that even if a mutation is one of the targets, the other PCR targets that are affected will still work. “
However, the mutations could potentially reduce the effectiveness of monoclonal antibodies in treating the virus, the CDC said. Monoclonal antibody treatments such as those received by President Donald Trump, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani have been identified as some of the few life-saving tools to fight the virus.
“Of these possibilities, the last one – the ability to evade vaccine-induced immunity – would probably be the most worrying, since after vaccination of a large part of the population there is an immune pressure that could favor and accelerate the development of such variants by selection for Escape mutants, ‘”said CDC. “There is no evidence that this will happen, and most experts believe that escape mutants are unlikely due to the nature of the virus.”
president Donald Trump‘s Coronavirus Vaccine Tsar Dr. Moncef Slaoui said Monday that he expects Pfizers and Moderna’s Covid-19 shots to be effective against the new burden.