FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KGPE) – COVID-19 variants studies show to be more contagious are raising concern for health experts locally and nationally.
Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra said Tuesday he wouldn’t be surprised if variants were detected locally.
“I don’t know of any specific variant that has been identified here but because it’s in our neighboring cities and counties, I think it’s safe to assume that it is circulating here in Fresno County as well,” Vohra said.
He added that Fresno County does not have the resources to test for variants locally.
According to the CDC, the B.1.1.7 lineage, also known as the U.K. variant, has been detected in 92 cases in California as of Wednesday. These represent cases found through sampling and do not represent the total number of B.1.1.7 lineage cases that could be circulating in the state.
“Viruses mutate all the time so they’re making variants every time they replicate. The reason that these variants come to attention is that they replicate in a way that have significant implications for perhaps the pandemic or the epidemiology of viral spread.” Vohra said.
“That’s concerning because that really would drive up our case rates and really just the way these things plan out, it would make them the dominant strain over time,” he added.
According to the CDC, modeling data indicates that the U.K. strain has the potential to increase the U.S. pandemic trajectory in the coming months.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke on Wednesday on what the U.K. variant means for the COVID-19 vaccine.
“When you’re looking at the 117, what we refer to as the U.K. variant, what we’re seeing is a very slight if at all impact on vaccine induced antibodies and very little impact on anything else, so we are covered with that,” Fauci said.
Other variants raising concern include the South Africa variant, known as B.1.351, and the Brazil variant, known as the P.1.
“Things get a bit more problematic when you go to the 351 or what we’re seeing as the dominant one in South Africa because in that regard, there is a moderate diminution, mainly a multifold diminution in the in vitro neutralization by vaccine induced antibodies,” Fauci said. “However, and this is an important however, it still is well within the cushion of protection.”
The country is now racing to vaccinate the U.S. population as quickly as possible and prevent the virus from mutating even more.
“If the variant mutates to a point where the vaccines aren’t as effective or some of the antibodies, etc. aren’t as effective because they’ve changed so much, then the basic science is really going to have to come up with perhaps a different vaccine or different kind of treatment,etc.” Vohra said.