LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — With additional COVID-19 vaccine shipments on their way to California, health officials in the United Kingdom have identified a new strain of the virus — one that they say could be up to 70% more transmissible.
“We are calling it a variant, and we are raising some concern,” Dr. Neha Nahnda, an infectious disease physician at Keck Medicine of USC, said. “We are not alarming people.”
On Sunday, parts of the U.K. entered into a new lockdown as dozens of other countries banned or restricted travel from the country due to the discovery.
“So, mutations, which are basically a change in the coding of the virus,” Nahnda said. “Some of the mutations have clinical implications, some do not.”
And while European health officials said that the strain was more transmissible, Nahnda said that assertion was based on a model that has yet to be clinically proven.
“There is a possibility that the variation in this virus, the mutation in this virus, may actually make it more transmissible,” she said. “However, this fact has not been confirmed yet.”
Experts also said there was not enough information about the mutated virus to say whether or not the new strain was more deadly than others.
“We have no indication or more data to support that this variant is responsible for more severe disease,” Nahnda said.
And while the discovery of a new strain that could be more easily spread has raised questions about the effectiveness of current vaccines, doctors said there was no reason for panic.
In total, World Health Organization officials have discovered about 4,000 mutations of the coronavirus. The two vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration, are believed to be effective against all of them.
“The vaccine, as we know it today, is effective as was shown in the clinical trials,” Nahnda said.
Health officials said the news should make people more vigilant, but not more fearful. They also recommend people get the vaccine as soon as they’re able.