Variant Update

Lots to catch up on in the past week. Specifically regarding the new COVID19 variants circulating across the globe…

B.1.1.7 is spreading fast in the United States…

Cases are doubling every 10 days. A new study just confirmed what we had hypothesized: the U.S. trajectory of variant spread is exactly mirroring the variant spread in the U.K.. It looks like our guesses will be correct… a U.S. surge in mid-March. As of Feb 7, there are 690 reported cases of B.1.1.7 in the U.S. across 33 states. We know this is a gross underestimation, though, given our suboptimal surveillance in the United States.

B.1.1.7 is 35% more deadly…

Just like any science, as more time passes (and the more and more studies come out), the more we learn. We know, from several studies now, that B.1.1.7 is more transmissible than preexisting variants (70% more efficient and rapid transmission). The virus does this by holding on even tighter to cells than before. We thought that B.1.1.7 wasn’t more deadly. However, recent research is showing that it is. A new study from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found that B.1.1.7 variant leads to change in disease severity. In other words, if you’re infected with this new variant, your risk of dying is around 35% higher. So, if you’re male aged 70-84 years old and tested positive using a PCR test, your risk of death increases from 4.7% (old variant) to 6.1% (new variant). For males aged 85+, death rate increases from 17.1% (old variant) to 21.7% (new variant). This study IS consistent with other preliminary work (published by the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group) which found the fatality rate to be 36% higher for people infected with B.1.1.7.

B1.351 is resistant to AstraZeneca (AZ)…

The B1.351 variant accounts for 90% of infections and transmission in South Africa, so it’s crucial to evaluate whether vaccines are effective against this variant. Unfortunately, a small study found that AZ did not protect against mild and moderate COVID19 disease. Out of 1,749 people, 39 participants were mildly to moderately infected with the new variant: 19 received the vaccine and 20 received the placebo. This would imply an efficacy (or risk reduction) of 2% for mild to moderate disease. None of the 39 had severe disease, so we don’t know the vaccines impact on severe COVID19 (preventing hospitalizations and deaths). However, we are still hopeful that the AZ vaccine does, as Johnson and Johnson had a same “type” of vaccine” and showed an impact on severe disease. Nonetheless, the AZ was so minimally effective that South Africa stopped AZ vaccine distribution in its tracts. This is major news, as South Africa just had 1 million doses delivered that were intended for healthcare workers later this month. It looks like South Africa’s response is going to rely heavily on J&J vaccines. I updated our vaccine table with this new piece of information (highlighted in peach).

Love, YLE