Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic.
Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear.
And the questions scientists are facing now: Does variant VUI-202012/01 fall into this last category? Does it represent an increased health risk?
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Based on these mutations, this variant strain has been predicted to potentially be more rapidly transmissible than other circulating strains of SARS-CoV-2.”
Also, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said the new strain “can spread more quickly” and was responsible for 60% of new infections in London.
The appearance of the new variant is alarming – though it should be noted that there have been several previous mutations of COVID-19.
In neither case was it found that these variants increased transmission of the disease. However, it is now clear that this is not the case for variant VUI-202012/01. What scientists must now tackle are concerned about the impact of the new variant – in particular whether it will lead to an increase in cases of severe COVID illness or actually result in fewer cases. The other big issue is whether the new variant will be able to bypass the protection offered by the COVID-19 vaccines now being administered across Britain.
Deputy Director-General of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and Joint Director of its European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, Ewan Birney said, “If the new variant was going to have a big impact on disease severity, we would have seen that by now.”
CDC, in collaboration with other public health agencies, is monitoring the situation closely. CDC is working to detect and characterize emerging viral variants and expand its ability to look for COVID-19 and new variants.