S. African coronavirus variant found in S. Carolina

2021-01-30 12:05:18

  People watch the Lights of Lugoff Christmas Parade in Lugoff, South Carolina on Dec 12, 2020. [Photo/Agencies] Health officials in South Carolina said Thursday that they have detected two cases of the coronavirus variant that has emerged from South Africa, the first report of the strain detected in the US. The state health department said that the cases involved no known travel to South Africa and no connection between the two patients, both adults, suggesting that the variant is circulating in the community. One patient was in the southern region of the state, and the other in the northeast region. "That's frightening," because it means there could be more undetected cases within the state, said Dr Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston told The Associated Press. "It's probably more widespread." The health department said it had identified one case on Wednesday and was notified of a second case the same day by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The variant, known as B.1.351, was originally identified in South Africa and has since been found in about 30 countries. While the two coronavirus vaccines now in use in the United States, developed by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, appear to be protective against other variants, they may be somewhat less effective against the one found in South Africa. Moderna has begun developing a new form of its vaccine that could be used as a booster shot against the variant in South Africa. The new variants are also believed to spread more readily than other versions of the virus, and the one found in the UK may lead to more severe disease. Biotech firm Novavax said Thursday that its coronavirus vaccine was more than 89 percent effective in protecting against COVID-19 in its phase three clinical trial conducted in the UK. With the results, the company "has the potential to play an important role in solving this global public health crisis", Novavax CEO Stanley Erck said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing to work with our partners, collaborators, investigators and regulators around the world to make the vaccine available as quickly as possible." The study also found that the vaccine appeared to be 85.6 percent effective against the UK variant, also known as B.1.1.7. A separate phase-two study in South Africa showed that the vaccine isn't nearly as effective against that strain ravaging the country. As a result of lower effectiveness against the South Africa strain, Novavax said it plans to pick a modified version of the vaccine to better guard against the new strain "in the company days". It plans to test the modified vaccine in the second quarter of this year. Novavax is among several companies developing a vaccine to fight the virus, which has infected more than 101 million people worldwide and killed at least 2.2 million as of Thursday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. In July, the US government, as part of the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed initiative, announced it would pay Novavax $1.6 billion to develop and manufacture the potential vaccine, with the aim of delivering 100 million doses by the beginning of 2021.