A medical worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) inserts a Covid-19 test tube into a box at a drive-thru testing site at the Alemany Farmers Market in San Francisco, California, Nov. 19, 2020.
Five new cases of “double mutant” Covid-19 strain recently found in the San Francisco Bay Area have been identified by Stanford University researchers. Physicians suspect that it may be more infectious than previous strains and resistant to existing vaccines.
The new variety was born in India, where, following months of declining cases, a recent 55% increase in cases occurred in Maharashtra, Mumbai state.
According to Dr. Benjamin Pinsky, the healthcare director of Stanford’s clinical virologery laboratory, who has discovered the new variant in the US, it contains two key mutations that scientists call E484Q and L452R.
Pinsky said in an interview: “There is good information as to how these mutations act in viruses themselves, but not in combination.
The L452R mutation showed that the virus is more transmissible in other variants. Antibodies are not recognized by the mutation found in other vaccines in order to reduce the efficacy of vaccines.
The mutation E484Q also has proven to be less susceptible to coronavirus neutralization. To tell whether the virus is more contagious with the mutation is still too early.
“But you’d expect that in combination with L452R that there may be an increase in transmission as well as reduction in antibody neutralization,” Pinsky said.
If the mutation increases the resistance of the virus to antibodies, both vaccines and anticorpus treatments can decrease their effectiveness and have become, according to Pinsky, a critical medical instrument in the fight against Covid-19.
“I suspect that existing vaccines will be slightly less effective in preventing infection by this new variant,” he said, “but all of the vaccines are extremely effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths.”
The bamlanivimab treatment with Eli Lilly has proven less effective in the treatment of E484Q or L452R mutations in strains. It is not effective. U.S. health regulator stopped its distribution last month, saying that the new variants did not work as well.
The double mutant variant “has known mutations in the scariest place to have a mutation — the receptor binding domain, where the virus uses to latch on to cells in our bodies in order to enter,” said Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases expert at the University of California San Francisco. “The mutations are either identical or eerily similar to mutations in variants that we already know about that have been scientifically proven to be more transmissible and/or evade vaccines. Hence many believe that this Indian variant will also have these superpowers.”
The new director of the CDC Dr. Rochelle Walensky led the agency to enhance surveillance, Dr. Tom Kenyon, chief health office of HOPE and former head of global Health at the centers for disease control and prevention, said that scientists are finding more mutations. “The more we look for, the more we’ll find them,” he said.
“There’s something about the world ‘double’ that scares people and makes it sound like it’s double bad,” Kenyon said in an interview. “Any mutation affecting transmissibility or viral replication would be dangerous.”
There’s a possibility the new variant will stay in the Bay Area, unlike the B.1.1.7 variant from the United Kingdom that has become the predominant strain just about anywhere it goes, Chin-Hong said.
“If the U.K. variant went into a boxing ring with the Indian variant, the U.K. variant will probably emerge victorious. But only time will tell “Chin-Hong said that. He said.
As the world vaccine continues, scientists are saying that the greater the chances of the virus becoming even worse. As states roll back Covid-19 restrictions Walensky warned about the imminent doom in the US. They are urging people to receive vaccine, including masks and social distances, and continue to follow public health precautions.
“The variants that scare me the most are the ones that haven’t been invented as yet … the more the virus replicates, we will continue to see these escape mutants,” Chin-Hong said. “We need global vaccination equity and continued battles against pandemic fatigue.”
California is set to lift most Covid restrictions by June 15 but still plans to keep a mask mandate in place.