A New “Mutant” Version of COVID-19
Scientists were always aware that a new “mutation” of COVID-19 would eventually be found, given that every virus tends to form new variants and strains, with some being dangerous and some being no more harmful than the original virus. The time has come where new strains of the Coronavirus have been discovered and confirmed. One of the newly-found strains is known as B.1.1.7. It was found in the United Kingdom back in September, and it has since taken over the U.K, putting them into another lockdown that started January 4, 2021; it has been traveling across the globe ever since. Another strain, B.1.351, originated and from South Africa, has not had such a large rise in cases, but still poses as a mutation that could be dangerous.
It has been said that these strains could be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the original COVID-19. The reason for this is because a new strain can become more transmissible in one of two ways. One way is how the strain binds to human cells. If the virus were to bind more efficiently to all human cells, anyone who ingests bacteria will have an increased chance of gaining an infection or being harmed by the virus. Another way is how fast and efficient the virus can replicate and spread, creating a higher amount of the virus, leading to more people getting exposed and infected. It is not yet known how much of a plausible threat these strains may contain, and which one of the qualities it has to make it more transmissible, but scientists are leaning towards the strains having a more effective binding method because of trends seen within the strains. It is possible that the new strain could affect a large number of people in the way that a cold does (harmful, but rarely lethal), making it easier to contain, or it could affect a smaller number of people and do more harm, similar to the flu. To discover which possibility the B.1.1.7 or B.1.351 has there are more experiments and research that scientists are conducting to get a better understanding of the situation, but with the trends that COVID-19 has shown, scientists have reason to believe that there is no evidence that would point to new variants causing a more severe reaction.
B.1.1.7 is the United Kingdom variant, which is being found in most of the U.K’s cases; however, scientists have found the new strain in many countries around the world. Brisbane, Australia began another lockdown on January 8, 2021 due to a hotel worker having B.1.1.7, trying to mitigate a significant outbreak in the new variant. This new strain has also been found in up to 45 more countries, and it was recently confirmed to be in the United States. The first confirmation of a B.1.1.7 case was in Colorado on December 28, and it has since been noted in California, Florida, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Connecticut. Limited amounts of the people confirmed have had any travel history, leading scientists to believe that there are more cases around the United States that have yet to be confirmed. Currently, it is only confirmed that 1–2 percent of Coronavirus cases in the U.S are from B.1.1.7. The South African variant, B.1.351, has not been confirmed in the U.S. or in many other countries, which is a sign of this strain being contained in South Africa.
Currently people’s main concern is whether or not the newly founded vaccine will work on the new strains, just the same as how it does on normal COVID-19 cases. In the past, viruses have ranged from new mutations constantly being discovered and their vaccines being updated to a rare amount of mutations and their original vaccine always working. In the trends set by the Coronavirus, scientists think that mutations will not be found very often, and vaccines will work against the new strains. Though there has not been enough research and experiments done on individuals who do have B.1.1.7 or B.1.351, the existing studies have pointed towards the vaccine still being effective. In the most recent study, scientists took N501Y, a shared mutation in the strains, and looked at what the antibodies in Pfizer’s vaccine would do to the mutation. There was no sign of the N501Y surviving, meaning the current vaccine was effective. There is still a lot of research to be done regarding the new strains of COVID-19, however these mutant strains were expected by scientists. With their existence and confirmation the world is one step closer to finding an end to the extremities of the Coronavirus Pandemic.