University of Arizona helps track COVID-19 variants

UArizona helps track COVID-19 variants

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -As thousands of vaccines head into the arms of Arizonan’s and people around the world, several COVID-19 variants are popping up, too.

The US is seeing hundreds of cases of new COVID-19 variants. Arizona now has four known cases of the variant first found in the U.K., while Florida has more than 200. Viruses mutate by nature—often hundreds of times. However, the U.K. variant seems to be the biggest concern for the U.S., according to Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunobiologist at the University of Arizona.

“Viruses change, and most of them don’t really do much of anything,” said Bhattacharya. “There’s a ‘gazillion’ different variants out there, the overwhelming majority of them don’t mean anything.”

Bhattacharya said the data is limited on how well the current vaccines work against the mutations. Early findings show there could be at least a 10% drop in effectiveness or much more, but it’s really unknown. It is likely the antibodies still work, but, The AstraZeneca rollout in South Africa was halted after research showed it had minimal effects on the variant first found there. Moderna said their vaccine is still effective.

“As we seek to defeat the COVID-19 virus, which has created a worldwide pandemic, we believe it is imperative to be proactive as the virus evolves. We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine should be protective against these newly detected variants,” said Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer of Moderna in an online statement. “Out of an abundance of caution and leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are advancing an emerging variant booster candidate against the variant first identified in the Republic of South Africa into the clinic to determine if it will be more effective to boost titers against this and potentially future variants.”

The University of Arizona is aiding research in COVID-19 variants, joining NAU and ASU, testing positive cases found on campus for any genetic mutations.

“We don’t have a lot of information, but again we don’t think any of those variants… [are] prevalent here, but it’s also at this point, I think we recognize that this is a global problem. and it’s going to be very difficult t keep it geographically restricted,” said Bhattacharya.

Bhattacharya said the vaccines are still incredibly effective at keeping people out of the hospital with severe cases of COVID-19, and that he says—is the most important thing.

“The best vaccine is the one you can get,” he said.

The CDC says the variants found in south Africa, the UK and Brazil “seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants,” and recommend people continue to follow public health guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

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