As Vaccines Roll Out, New COVID Strain Rolls In

Healthcare experts around the world worry that the COVID-19 mutation—called VUI–202012/01—might be 70% more infectious than the standard SARS-CoV-2 strain. There are no indications yet that it may also be more lethal or that vaccines can’t neutralize it.

The first shipments of Moderna’s vaccine against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)—the second COVID-19 vaccine to receive emergency use authorization (EUA) from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2 weeks—began to be shipped to distribution sites over the weekend. This occurs as the infection rate from the novel coronavirus keeps breaking records, and a new variant of the disease rears its ugly head. Healthcare experts and public policy officials around the world are keeping a wary eye on a mutated version of COVID-19 first discovered in the United Kingdom that may be 70% more infectious, although there hasn’t been any indication that it could not be contained by the vaccines or that it’s more lethal.

Moderna’s vaccine was granted an EUA last Friday and the shipments of the product to distribution sites around the country began the next day. Millions of doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and which got FDA EUA approval a week earlier have already been shipped

As Infection Control Today®’s sister publication Contagion reported last Friday, Moderna’s mRNA-1273 vaccine is 94.1% efficient against COVID-19 and can be given in a single dose. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine—BNT162b2—is given in 2 doses spaced 21 days apart and has a 95% efficacy rate.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that at lease 2,838,225 have been distributed and at least 556,208 have been administered. Unfortunately, for hundreds of thousands of Americans the vaccines didn’t arrive in time.

Last Friday, the US reported 249,709 new COVID 19 cases and 2812 people died from the disease that day, according to John’s Hopkins University. The five highest number of case counts are:

  • Dec. 18: 249,709
  • Dec. 16: 247,403
  • Dec. 17: 236,211
  • Dec. 11: 234,103
  • Dec. 4: 229,606

In the United States, there have been over 18.8 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 317,684 people have died from the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University. Yesterday, there were 189,099 new cases of COVID-19 while 1509 people died from the disease.

Of all the COVID-19 related fires breaking out, the one that currently occupies the attention of healthcare experts around the world seems to be what’s going on with the variation of the disease. The UK has issued strict lockdowns in London and other parts of the country.

Other countries have banned travel from the UK in an attempt to keep the variation at bay. They include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that the new variant has been detected in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

The WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove, said in a virtual press conference that the new COVID mutation, called VUI–202012/01, is being monitored by the organization’s virus evolution working group. Van Kerkhove said that “what’s really important is that you understand that there is a process by which WHO working together with scientists around the world are evaluating each one of these variants that are being identified and to understand the significance of this in terms of the virus’s behavior as its ability to transmit or its ability to cause different forms of disease.”

Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical adviser, said at a recent press conference that “this one has quite a few more mutations than some of the other variants, so that’s why we've taken it particularly seriously.” Those variants include an N501Y mutation in the the spike protein that the virus uses to bind to the human ACE2 receptor.