Lab results confirm presence of more infectious, deadly U.K. variant
Vermont health officials have confirmed detection of the Covid-19 variant B.1.1.7 – the viral mutation first detected in the United Kingdom. in the fall of 2020. This is the first lab-confirmed evidence of any coronavirus variant in the state.
The variant was detected in a specimen taken from a resident of Chittenden County, according to a new release Monday, March 8.
Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants and strains are not unexpected. Many emerge and disappear, but others can persist and even become the predominant strain. The B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the US at the end of December 2020, has already been identified in 49 U.S. states and territories. The CDC said in January that it anticipated that the B.1.1.7 variant will become the dominant strain the U.S. by as early as March, due to the fact that it’s more easily transmissible. Coronaviruses from the B.1.1.7 lineage are thought to be 30-50% more infectious than other variants and 35% more deadly, according to preliminary studies.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD said confirmation of the variant in Vermont is a concern, but not a surprise. “This and other variants have been circulating throughout the U.S. for some time, so we expected to find evidence of it here. In fact, we are the last New England state where it has been detected.”
Dr. Levine said what is notable about the B.1.1.7 variant is that it can spread even faster than the virus that has been in the state. “The good news is that medical studies indicate the current vaccines are effective against this strain, and Vermonters should have confidence in the vaccines available,” Dr. Levine added. “We are moving to vaccinate people as quickly as possible, and I ask everyone who is eligible for each phase to get vaccinated. But now that we know the variant is here, it is ever more important that everyone follow our guidance to prevent transmission – wear your mask, keep a distance of 6 feet from each other, and absolutely avoid crowded places. These steps continue to be effective against variants.”
Dr. Levine also urged people to take advantage of the ample testing available. “Not everyone shows symptoms of the virus, and you can’t know without testing if you have Covid-19. All these things are how we protect each other and bring this pandemic to an end.”
The Health Dept. sends select samples from people who had already tested positive for Covid-19 to the Massachusetts Public Health Laboratory, Molecular Diagnostics and Virology program for genetic sequencing. The result has been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While B.1.1.7 is the most common variant in the U.S. two others exist. B.1.351 (a.k.a. the South Africa variant) and P.1 (a.k.a. the Brazilian variant) were both first detected in the U.S. at the end of January 2021. The latter variant contains a set of additional mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies, according to the CDC.