A new variant of the COVID-19 virus has been discovered at a Kentucky nursing home, where it has reportedly infected 45 residents and health care personnel, according to scientist William A. Haseltine.
The variant, called R.1, originated in Japan and infected many residents and workers in the Kentucky nursing home who were fully vaccinated, Haseltine said.
R.1 has now received more than 10,000 entries in the GISAID SARS-CoV-2 database, the world’s largest database that researchers use to track and record genomic data.
“The variant contains five mutations previously noted in variants of concern or interest … It also contains many unique mutations,” Haseltine wrote for Forbes.
“R.1 is a variant to watch. It has established a foothold in both Japan and the United States. In addition to several mutations notably in the spike and nucleocapsid protein in common with variants of concern, R.1 has a set of unique mutations that may confer an additional advantage in transmission, replication, and immune suppression.”
Haseltine’s comments come just days after the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) vaccine advisory panel voted to recommend against providing Pfizer booster vaccines to the general public, but recommended the shots for Americans aged 65 and older and for those who are at high risk, dealing a blow to the Biden administration’s vaccination agenda.
While U.S. health officials, some other countries, and vaccine makers have argued that boosters are needed for everyone, many scientists, including some inside the FDA, have disagreed, noting that regulators haven’t yet independently verified all of the available data.
Some FDA staff have also noted that it isn’t currently clear if those who receive a booster dose would have an increased risk of adverse reactions, such as myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) or pericarditis (inflammation of the outer lining of the heart).
Since April, increased cases of myocarditis and pericarditis have been reported in the United States following vaccinations using the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, most notably among adolescents and young adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A recent study from several top scientists at the World Health Organization (WHO) and FDA has also found that the general population doesn’t need a booster dose and instead called for current supplies of vaccines to be given to unvaccinated populations, such as low-income countries.
“Even if boosting were eventually shown to decrease the medium-term risk of serious disease, current vaccine supplies could save more lives if used in previously unvaccinated populations,” the authors wrote.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has also called for the United States to pause on developing booster shots until the end of 2021 and instead share leftover vaccines with underdeveloped nations.
“I will not stay silent when companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world’s poor should be satisfied with leftovers,” he told a news conference on Sept. 8. “Because manufacturers have prioritized or been legally obliged to fulfill bilateral deals with rich countries willing to pay top dollar, low-income countries have been deprived of the tools to protect their people.”