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UArizona researcher finds new COVID-19 variant

UArizona researcher finds new COVID-19 variant
Posted at 6:49 PM, Jan 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-17 15:29:29-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — A University of Arizona researcher has found a new variant of COVID-19.

Evolutionary Biologist Michael Worobey says the new strain is something to prepare for, but not to panic over.

“The virus is not a stationary target. It is evolving,” he told KGUN9.

Worobey says he and his graduate student, Brendan Larson, discovered a new strain of COVID-19 described as B.1.375--

“It has a mutation in the spike gene that is shared with the lineage that’s come to dominate the United Kingdom epidemic and so we’re watching that one carefully,” he said.

Worobey says this strain is different than the one spreading rapidly in the United Kingdom.

That one is already making its way onto U.S. soil.

“It hasn’t been found in Arizona yet, but it’s really only a matter of time. It’s not something we want to panic about but it is something we want to prepare for. We want to realize we’re in a bit of a race here where we’ve got variants of this virus that are that even more challenging than the ones we had to deal with in 2020,” he added.

He says it’s challenging because he says folks with the variant in the U.K. carry more of the virus in their throats than those with the previous strain.

“Like many even 100 or 1,000 times more virus and so it does follow then that if there’s that much more virus present in the nasal passages of someone that it’s that much easier to pass on,” said Worobey.

The big question with new variants of the virus is:

Will vaccines, already developed for the original strain, work?

“The great thing about these vaccines is that, for the most part, they actually generate a stronger immune response than natural infection. So my hope is that the vaccine is going to be extremely protective even against these antigenically adapted variants that are somewhat different than the vaccine strain,” Worobey told KGUN9.

University of Arizona’s top infectious disease expert agrees.

Dr. Elizabeth Connick says COVID vaccines are particularly well suited to work on new strains, because of their focus on the virus's *spike protein.

“When you respond to the vaccine you develop a whole host of antibodies to a number of different pieces of the virus. So from what we know we don't have any evidence that the vaccine shouldn't work easily against the new strain of virus,” she said.

The U.K. variant of COVID has proven to be more contagious than the original strain, but not more deadly, according to the BBC.

Worobey says he and his team still have a lot of work to do to figure out those same things about their newly discovered variant.