News/Op-Ed: While COVID-19 Vaccination Rollouts Have Brought Optimism, New Spreads Of Variants Cause Further Uncertainty

by Andrew Fierro

The first case of P.1., a new Coronavirus variant, which is also known as the “Brazilian” variant, has been confirmed in San Bernardino, California by the California Department of Health. The new variants of COVID-19 are creating growing uncertainty amongst people everywhere, specifically in regards to whether the new vaccinations are protective against new variants.

On March 13th, the California Department of Health alerted the county that there was a positive testing for the P.1. variant that was found on March 2nd. The man who had contracted the new variant is in his mid 40’s and has since been isolating at home. 

This is not the only appearance of the P.1 variant inside the United States, however, as it has also been seen in the states of Arizona and Massachusetts. The variant was first detected inside four travelers coming from Brazil, who were tested at the Haneda Airport in Japan. However, it was first reported in the United States at the end of January.

Although the variant currently seems as if it is not any worse than the original coronavirus variant, it is more contagious and dangerous in the sense that if it’s being spread, it can spread faster than the original COVID-19, potentially boosting up numbers in California just as they begin to go down. According to the CDC, the emergence of this P.1. variant may raise concerns for potential of an increase in transmissibility or propensity for SARS-CoV-2 reinfection of individuals due to the 2 mutations that the variant possesses. 

The variant was detected in some samples from the Amazonas state in Brazil back in mid-December. The researchers said that they detected the variant in 42% of the samples that they were able to test. It has also now been confirmed in some recent tests in Japan from people who were visiting the Manaus inside the Amazonas. Though the exact date of the variant appearance is not known, through the genome-surveillance samples inside the Manaus between March to November, there had been no signs of the variant. 

Reasons for why the variant is dangerous is firstly because of its spike mutation that makes it more infectious. Another mutation that is inside the variant is the N501Y, which is also known as “Nelly” and has been speedily spreading across the UK. The variant is possibly more than 50% more transmissible than other past variants that have made their way around the world. This is the main cause for concern for scientists and other global health officials.

Not only is it more transmissible, it also has a variant called the “escape mutation”, which according to lab experiments in South Africa, found that this mutation has helped the coronavirus escape from different protective antibodies that were in place due to earlier infections. This means that it makes it possible for someone who had already been infected with an earlier version of the coronavirus variant to become re-infected with the new variant.

Though this mutation does allow it to re-infect individuals already having been infected with earlier variants, there is no evidence to suggest that the already currently available vaccines will not work against this variant and other variants with the same or similar mutations. There will be updates to vaccines as times goes on, more variants are detected and more information is found. 

As of now there has yet to be a more mass spread of the variant inside the U.S., with the only real outbreak happening in Brazil and single cases found in other countries around the world.

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