A: This is an evolving situation. Actions today could result in great success or tragic loss.
Key take aways— B.1.1.7 is in the US. Growing evidence suggests the B.1.1.7 variant spreads more easily than previous variants. New evidence supports the hypothesis that current vaccines are effective against B.1.1.7. Early efforts to contain B.1.1.7 buys time and could save lives.
Is the B.1.1.7 variant circulating in the U.S?
Yes. The B.1.1.7 strain has been identified in multiple states within the U.S and is likely circulating undetected in others. Just how much “additional” infection we can expect from the B.1.1.7 variant in the U.S. remains unclear. Even a small increase in transmission would cause significant harm in an already raging pandemic.
⏩Does the B.1.1.7 variant spread quicker than other variants?
Unfortunately, evidence points to yes. Current estimates suggest the B.1.1.7 variant is 50-70% more efficient in spreading from person to person. This is a big deal in the setting of an existing surge of infections and stressed healthcare systems. Scientists continue to study the biological components of the virus that may allow for increased transmission. Two specific theories gaining traction include the improved ability of the new variant to bind with the ACE2 receptor to enter cells and the presence of higher viral loads in those infected with this variant. Researchers continue to study how these mutations alter the function of the virus and transmission in children.
💉Do existing vaccines protect against the B.1.1.7 variant?
Evidence points to yes. Phew! New preliminary evidence suggests the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is effective against the N501Y mutation. This study examined the effectiveness of the existing vaccine on one specific mutation in the spike protein present in two variants initially discovered in the United Kingdom and South Africa, mutation N501Y. This is the 16th mutation studied by Pfizer. To date, the vaccine has remained effective against all tested mutations. This is promising news, though the study did not look at the full set of spike protein mutations found on either widely circulating strain. Continued examination from Pfizer and others is expected to examine this and other mutations, such as the E484K mutation present on the variant originating in South Africa.
🛑What can we do to stop the B.1.1.7 variant?
Slow it down! The B.1.1.7 variant is not believed to circulate widely in the US today. That could change very quickly! Early actions to limit further spread of the B.1.1.7 variant now could drastically reduce cases (and complications) in the next few weeks allowing more time to vaccinate. Now more than ever, stay SMART and stay home whenever possible. We will continue to provide updates as new findings present themselves.
Those Nerdy Girls
Summary of science and implications of B.1.1.7 variant from The Atlantic (very worth the read)
DP’s previous posts on the B.1.1.7 variant: