COVID Variant from UK Spreading Fast in US

Day 352: Stay Safe Minnesota

More Contagious Variant Is Spreading Fast in U.S., Even as Overall Cases Level Off, according to The New York Times.

Even though overall new cases of COVID-19 leveling off, new cases more contagious variant from UK (known as B.1.1.7) are spreading fast in U.S., report Lauren Leatherby and Scott Reinhard in The New York Times. According to an analysis of data from Helix, a lab testing company, more than 20% of the new cases in US are accounted for UK variant B.1.1.7 and its share of total cases is growing at a trajectory similar to that seen in countries where it has fueled surges, Times reports.

Screenshot source: The New York Times

“The B.1.1.7 variant is just one variant of concern found in the United States, in addition to a variant first identified in Brazil and another discovered in South Africa. But those variants make up a tiny fraction of total cases compared with B.1.1.7, which experts say is likely to become dominant across the country this month.”

Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University told the Times “I am encouraged by the declining case counts in the most heavily affected states. I’ve been watching Florida closely, which has the highest share of B.1.1.7. Case counts have plateaued there in recent days but are not resurging. The longer we can hold the line, the more time we have to roll out vaccines, which will protect individuals, particularly those at highest risk of severe illness, and slow transmission over all. [..] The other variants are circulating at very low levels now compared to B.1.1.7, but over the long run it will be important to watch those because they have the potential to make our vaccines less effective.”

UK COVID Variant More Deadlier

According a newly published in the medical journal the BMJ, a sample of people in the UK infected with the variant (known as B.1.1.7) appeared to be between 32% and 104% — so around a probable 64% — more likely to die than those infected with the previously circulating variants.

In the community, death from COVID-19 is still a rare event, but the B.1.1.7 variant raises the risk. Coupled with its ability to spread rapidly this makes B.1.1.7 a threat that should be taken seriously.

Robert Challen, lead author of the study from the University of Exeter in the UK in a news release.

Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick in the UK, said in a statement distributed by the Science Media Centre:

“This study confirms previous work showing that infection with the B.1.1.7 virus variant is associated with an increased risk of death. The precise mechanisms responsible for increased mortality associated with the variant remain uncertain but could be related to higher levels of virus replication as well as increased transmissibility.”

The variant is already spreading in the United States, and health officials warn it “might become dominant” in the country.

COVID Variants a Concern in MN

Minnesota health officials briefed reporters that the state is one of the fastest states in vaccine administration and must continue the pace in order to shield the state from SARS-CoV-2 and some more infectious variants of the virus.

The variants are a concern that’s out there and it feels like a race to get folks vaccinated.

Gov. Tim Walz (source: Star Tribune)

After receiving her first dose of COVID vaccine, receive the new vaccine, State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm reportedly told that people should take advantage of whatever types of vaccines are immediately available to them.

“I’m actually surprised how emotional this day is. I think it represents the hope that I have heard about and seen in friends and colleagues who have had the vaccine. It’s a really big deal.”

Boosting Covid-19 Vaccines Against Variants

On a CNN interview on Wed March 10, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that “there are two ways of going about booster shots for Covid-19 vaccines against variants: boosting against the regular virus or boosting against specific variants.”

You’re going to see two ways of going at this. Boost against the regular virus which will have a spillover and protect you against the variant, or specifically boost against the variant. And I think both of those are going to be promising.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, on CNN Interview

“The vaccines in use now seem to be working against the variants. For the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK, antibodies induced by the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine are ‘quite effective’. Looking at the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa in the lab, it appears the efficacy of vaccines is slightly diminished. People need to continue to be careful and not overly optimistic, but I think what we’re seeing is that boosting with just the wild type virus vaccine – wild type means the standard one, not a variant – can actually protect you against a variant,” said Dr Fauci.

COVID-19 Vaccination Watch

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID vaccination tracker page (as of Mar 14, 9 a.m.) 135,847,835 doses have been distributed and 107,060,274 doses administered. According MDH COVID-19 Response vaccine data (as of Mar 12) a total of 1,914,713 doses of Covid-19 (Pfizer & Moderna) vaccines have been administered in Minnesota. According to the MDH latest tally (as of Mar 14) the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota are 497,392 (out of 7,757,403 tested) with 6,746 deaths.