COVID-19 Variants Making Their Way to California

February 8, 2021 Updated: February 8, 2021

New strains of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus are mutating worldwide and slowly making their way to California, as health officials work to determine whether current vaccines will remain effective against the latest variants.

Dr. Thomas Cesario, an infectious disease specialist based in the city of Orange, told The Epoch Times that he’s concerned about newly discovered strains of COVID-19 from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil.

“I think we’re all very worried about them,” Cesario said, calling the South African strain “perhaps the most worrisome.”

The South African variant, called B.1.351, has been discovered in several states but has not yet been reported in Southern California. Early evidence suggests that this variant might not be treatable with the currently available vaccines.

“We have information that the immunity produced by the current strains and apparently by the vaccine strains is strictly much weaker against that South African variety,” Cesario said.

“It does appear that the vaccine is less effective there, however … the vaccine that they were using there was not the one we use here. The vaccine that they were using there was … the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.”

But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also question the efficacy of the Moderna vaccine against the South African strain, which reportedly makes up 90 percent of all instances of the disease in that country.

“Preliminary evidence from non-peer-reviewed publications suggests that the Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine currently used in the U.S. may be less effective against this variant,” according to the CDC. The center suggested additional studies to verify.

The South African variant was initially detected last October. The first U.S. cases were reported at the end of January. According to Cesario, it has so far been isolated twice in South Carolina and once in Maryland.

United Kingdom B.1.1.7

Orange County officials reported on Feb. 8 the first case of a more contagious variant of the virus, known as the United Kingdom’s B.1.1.7.

The strain—which was first detected at the end of December 2020—was discovered on Jan. 26 in a 21-year-old San Clemente man, whose symptoms were reportedly resolved.

“We know that it appears to be more infectious. … It probably is about 50 percent more infectious than the original COVID strain,” said Cesario. “There is a debate whether or not they are more lethal.”

However, the vaccines still seem to be effective, Cesario said. “The vaccine strain that we’ve been using still seems to work against that virus.”

According to the CDC, early evidence suggests this variant may be more deadly compared to others.

“In January 2021, scientists from the UK reported early evidence that suggests the B.1.1.7 variant may be associated with an increased risk of death compared with other variants. More studies are needed to confirm this finding,” the CDC states on its website.

Brazil’s P.1 Variant

Another variant, called P.1, emerged in travelers from Brazil. The strain was first discovered early last month during routine testing at an airport in Japan; by the end of January, it had been detected in the United States.

“We don’t know a lot about it, other than it cropped up in Minnesota,” Cesario said.  “It seems to be quite infectious.”

The P.1 variant contains a set of additional mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies, nulling the effectiveness of the vaccine.

“There is evidence to suggest that some of the mutations in the P.1 variant may affect the ability of antibodies (from natural infection or vaccination) to recognize and neutralize the virus,” the CDC states.

Universal Vaccine

The University of California–Irvine (UCI) is developing a universal vaccine to protect against all variants of the virus.

Tom Vasich, UCI senior director of communications and media relations, told The Epoch Times that the vaccine is still in its research phase. It’s “premature to say” whether the vaccine will work against all variants, “but it’s the hope,” he said via email.

Cesario said he knows the person working on the universal vaccine. “Hopefully he’ll be successful,” he said.

Vasich said he was unaware of any research at UCI about the efficacy of current vaccines.

“UCI Health does not have an official comment about the variants,” said Vasich. “We encourage people to continue following the precautions local, state and federal health officials have established—masking, appropriate social distancing and frequent hand washing and hand hygiene observance.”

The CDC website states that additional studies are needed on all variants.

“So far, studies suggest that antibodies generated through vaccination with currently authorized vaccines recognize these variants,” according to the CDC. “This is being closely investigated and more studies are underway.”