State health officials confirmed the variant’s existence in Maryland after consulting with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The case involves an adult residing in the Baltimore metropolitan area who hasn’t traveled outside the country; officials are tracing his potential contacts to test and/or quarantine.
While the virus strain appears to be more transmissible than other variants, it hasn’t been shown to cause more severity in the illness or risk of death.
“State health officials are closely monitoring the B.1.351 variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the state,” Hogan said in a statement. “We strongly encourage Marylanders to practice extra caution to limit the additional risk of transmission associated with this variant. Please continue to practice standard public health and safety measures, including mask wearing, regular hand washing, and physical distancing.”
Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Novavax all have said their vaccines haven’t been as effective against the B.1.351 strain.
The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center said in a Jan. 13 statement that its scientists had also detected a new variant. The scientists say this variant “carries a mutation identical to the UK strain,” but that it plausibly came into existence from a genus already in existence in the United States.
Additionally, the document asserts that three mutations were found together for the first time in another SARS-CoV-2 strain that evolved in the United States.
“This new Columbus strain has the same genetic backbone as earlier cases we’ve studied, but these three mutations represent a significant evolution,” said Dr. Dan Jones, vice chair of the hospital’s division of molecular pathology, who led the study. “We know this shift didn’t come from the UK or South African branches of the virus.”
These mutations, the study indicates, likely make the virus more transmissible from human to human.
Another researcher involved in the study presented a concerning problem: the vaccines and current therapeutic approaches’ efficacy on the new variants.
“The big question is whether these mutations will render vaccines and current therapeutic approaches less effective,” said Peter Mohler, a co-author of the study. “At this point, we have no data to believe that these mutations will have any impact on the effectiveness of vaccines now in use.”