The new coronavirus has likely mutated countless times without attracting the attention of epidemiologists. But new strains identified in the U.K., South Africa, Brazil, and California have given some infectious disease experts pause.
Several studies indicate that the strain known as the B117 variant, prevalent in the U.K., may be as much as 70 percent more transmissible than the original virus. Two analyses in California suggested that a new strain on the West Coast, called B.1.426, made up a quarter of the infections they examined. As the news whipsaws between infection spikes and inoculation efforts, it can seem like the world has entered a race between variant and vaccine.
“The change through mutation is quite rapid,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, pediatric physician and disaster preparedness adviser to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We don’t know where it’s going. This is the reality, that we don’t know what to expect. The thing that we’re more worried about is that it could mutate to become resistant to the vaccines or partially resistant to the vaccines.”
“I think primarily this reinforces the urgency of every aspect of the pandemic response,” echoed Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Not just vaccination, but also testing contact tracing, precaution taking, and general vigilance.”