Micah Green/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Health officials have identified the first U.S. cases of the coronavirus variant that was initially detected in South Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the variant, known as B 1.351, has been found in South Carolina.
“CDC is early in its efforts to understand this variant and will continue to provide updates as we learn more,” the agency said. “At this time, we have no evidence that infections by this variant cause more severe disease. Like the U.K. and Brazilian variants, preliminary data suggests this variant may spread more easily and quickly than other variants.”
The variants have alarmed public health experts in recent months, posing a new challenge even as vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have raised hopes in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The strain of SARS-CoV-2 that was first detected in South Africa has now been found in at least 20 other countries. Discussing the variants in a briefing Wednesday, White House officials noted that in cases involving the strain, early studies suggest “neutralization by vaccine-induced antibodies may be moderately diminished.”
Noting those findings, Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “However, it still is well within the cushion of protection. So you could diminish the vaccine-induced antibody efficacy by a few-fold and still be well within the protective range of the vaccine. And that’s the reason why you’ve seen announcements that the vaccines we’re using are still effective.”
Earlier this week, Moderna said that its COVID-19 vaccine offers protection against new variants of the coronavirus — but that the vaccine is more effective against the strain first identified in the U.K. than the one found in South Africa.
Moderna said that when its vaccine was used against the variant from South Africa, the vaccine produced levels of virus-fighting antibody titers that were around sixfold less than when it’s used against other variants.
As a result, Moderna said it will test booster doses of its vaccine, including one that would be tailored to fight strains that have recently emerged.
A main concern now, Fauci said on Wednesday, is to look forward, to how the coronavirus might continue to change and evolve.