POST 97. December 27, 2020. “A new variant of the coronavirus that has been spreading through the UK and other countries has not yet been detected in the United States..”.. . But if new-wave medicines like antivirals and antibody therapy contributed to the development of viral variants, it will be “a reminder for all the medical community that we need to use these treatment options carefully.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised that it’s already here,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease professor at UCSF School of Medicine, referring to the new coronavirus variant.

He says unlike the UK, the United States has not done much genomic testing on positive COVID-19 samples to track emerging variants.

“Mainly because we have so many numbers,” said Chin-Hong.

The CDC says out of 17 million positive cases, only 51,000 have been sequenced since the pandemic began. For comparison, the CDC says the UK has sequenced at least 125,000 samples.” (A)

“Millions of people in the U.K. woke up a day after Christmas to tougher coronavirus restrictions on Saturday as officials in France and other European countries reported their first cases of the mutated, potentially more contagious strain.

Swathes of England were placed under the toughest set of lockdown rules, known as “Tier 4,” which will result in the closure of gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and most shops. People will also be restricted to meeting just one other person from another household in an outdoor public space.

The U.K.’s capital, London, has been living under “Tier 4” regulations since last week, while other parts of the country were under lower, less restrictive tiers numbered from one to three.

From Saturday, the number of people living in “Tier 4” in England will increase by 6 million to 24 million people or just over 40 percent of the population.

Scotland, which has its own tier system, moved much of the mainland into the highest level of restrictions for three weeks from Saturday, while Northern Ireland began six weeks of tight limits including a partial evening curfew. Wales remains under a national lockdown.

The total number of deaths from Covid-19 in the U.K. passed 70,000 on Christmas Day, while more than 2 million cases have been reported, according to Johns Hopkins University data…

A French man arrived in France on Dec. 19 from London and tested positive for the new variant Friday, the French public health agency said in a statement.

He had no symptoms and was isolating in his home in the central city of Tours, the statement said. Adding, that authorities were tracing his contacts and laboratories were analyzing tests from several other people who may have the new variant.

The new strain has also been detected in Sweden, Japan, Ireland and Spain, health officials in those countries said. While it was found in places as far flung as Denmark, Iceland and Australia earlier last week.”  (B)

“No matter the underlying reason, policymakers should take this new variant very seriously, says epidemiologist Bill Hanage of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. If it’s indeed 50% more transmissible, it will be difficult to stop its spread.

“Given the assumptions in their models, it’s really quite hard to avoid a situation very much like what happened last spring, in terms of hospital bed capacity and surges, without a very high rate of vaccination,” Hanage says.

That said, Hanage says there’s no reason for people to panic or be scared. “It’s not a magic virus,” he says — that’s the message virus expert Ian Mackay at the University of Queensland also wrote on Twitter.

“We have actually come across a large number of ways that we can use to stop it. However, we need to redouble our efforts in that direction.”

The variant will likely come to the U.S. — if isn’t here already. The study strongly suggests that people should be even more diligent about preventive measures: avoiding large gatherings. wearing masks, physical distancing and washing hands. On top of that, Hanage says, “the vaccine needs to be getting out at a very, very high rate.”

Because right now, scientists believe the vaccine will still be effective with this new variant. And Hanage says the quicker we immunize the vulnerable members of a community the safer the whole community will be from the original and future versions of the novel coronavirus.” (C)

“New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is coordinating with hospitals in the state to test for the fast-spreading COVID-19 variant found in the U.K.

At a Dec. 22 news conference, the governor said the state laboratory, Wadsworth Center, has agreements in place with Montefiore Medical Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Northwell, University of Rochester Medical Center, Albany Medical Center and Saratoga Hospital to perform the tests.

A spokesperson for Northwell said the system is selecting samples at random and sending them to Wadsworth to test for the new highly contagious strain. Mr. Cuomo said that the state’s health department is making arrangements with other hospitals in the state to facilitate testing for the new strain, and will provide any hospital that has the lab capacity to test for the variant with the right reagents to test for the mutated strain.

Models have shown the COVID-19 variant found in the U.K. spreads 70 percent faster. It has not been detected in the U.S., and the 4,000 tests that Wadsworth has completed so far have come back negative for the variant. Yet Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this week it is possible that the new variant is already in the United States.

“We have no evidence at this point that it is in this state,” Mr. Cuomo said. “We do know it has been moving globally. Chances are, if it’s been moving globally, it came here. That was the lesson from the spring.”

Mr. Cuomo said if the new variant is identified in New York, he wants to contact trace immediately from that point back and isolate it immediately.

“This is about time and urgency, and this would be urgent. And that’s why we’re mobilizing every hospital lab in the state that can perform this test, to perform this test,” he said.” (D)

“One thing that the emergence of the new variant has made clear is that scientists must pay greater attention to how the virus is changing in the real world. Though mutations are common, and indeed expected, these changes could ultimately affect how well drugs and vaccines work against the virus.

BioNTech, the German company that has partnered with Pfizer on a Covid-19 vaccine, said in a statement that it is “currently investigating the impact of our vaccine on this mutation.” Several countries, including the U.K. and the U.S., have started administering Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, and the European Union authorized use of the vaccine on Monday.

“So far we have tested approximately 20 different mutations and the vaccine was able to address all of them,” the statement continued. “It is too early to draw any conclusions at this stage, but our vaccine is able to mount a strong and broad immune response so we remain optimistic.”

If the vaccine did need to be modified, it would take about 6 weeks to do so, BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said during a press conference Tuesday.

David Engelthaler, a geneticist at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Arizona, said that we need to increase our surveillance of genetic changes to the coronavirus to study how the virus is changing in real time.

“It’s becoming more and more clear that we really need to watch this virus closely. It is not a static thing. It is continuing to evolve and change in slight ways

arose or what they mean long-term for the virus’s transmission. One possible hypothesis for their origin involves chronically ill patients treated with experimental therapies like convalescent plasma donated by recovered COVID-19 patients. In such lengthy illnesses, the virus has more opportunities to replicate, increasing the odds for mutations. The consistent use of the therapies, meanwhile, may put more pressure on the germ to evolve. that may make a big difference” he said. “Otherwise the virus will always be 10 steps ahead.”

The U.K. has a robust system in place to monitor for genetic changes in the virus; in the U.S., however, just 0.3 percent of infections have been genetically sequenced, according to the CDC. That means that while the variant has not been reported in the U.S., it’s possible that it’s already here, undetected.

Rasmussen and Kindrachuk both described the new variant as a “wake-up call” to expand genetic sequencing of the virus in the U.S., regardless of whether this variant turns out to be more transmissible…

“In the end, it’s possible that seasonal adjustments to the vaccine may need to be done, like for flu. We don’t know yet.””(E)

“Scientists are still uncertain about how the cluster of mutations

“Some of these people who are chronically infected have some quite big shifts in the virus,” says Ravindra Gupta, a virologist at the University of Cambridge. “Some are immune-suppressed. Some of them have had convalescent plasma. Some of them have had [the antiviral] remdesivir.”

If this suspected origin story does prove to be the case, it could have implications for treatment, says Muge Cevik, a clinical lecturer in infectious diseases at the University of St. Andrews. Earlier in the pandemic, the best path for helping patients was unclear. That led hospitals to give patients a buffet of therapies, with the hope that some combination might work. But if new-wave medicines like antivirals and antibody therapy contributed to the development of viral variants, it will be “a reminder for all the medical community that we need to use these treatment options carefully.”  (F)

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