There are currently two main coronavirus variants that have made their way to U.S. soil. The B.1.1.7 variant, which is the dominant virus in the UK and the B.1.351 variant, which is dominant in large parts of South Africa.
Currently, the B.1.1.7 variant has been identified in 467 people across 32 states. Florida has seen the most cases, with at least 147, followed by California, with at least 113. B.1.1.7 is expected to become the dominant variant in the U.S. within the next few weeks.
But that’s not all. Coronavirus variants are becoming increasingly concerning as they mutate. Samples of the more transmissible B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant, have acquired a mutation called E484K. The same mutation is already present in the B.1.351 variant from South Africa.
Lab studies have shown that the E484K mutation helps variants evade antibodies. The mutation seems to help the virus dodge immunity built up to previous variants and current vaccines.
Ravindra Gupta at the University of Cambridge and his colleagues have already confirmed that the B.1.1.7 variant with E484K mutation is better at evading immune protection. In other words, this is a faster-spreading virus that is also better at evading immunity. This is worrisome as it could evolve further and completely evade immunity, undermining vaccination efforts.
So far, the Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine offers “minimal protection” against mild disease from the South Africa variant, scientists say. In addition, real world trials of two other vaccines (Janssen and Novavax) showed a dip in performance in South Africa as well.
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