Healthcare workers conduct free Covid-19 tests for people in their cars in the parking lot of the Columbus West Family Health and Wellness Center in Columbus, Ohio on November 19, 2020.
Stephen Zenner | AFP | Getty Images
Researchers in Ohio said Wednesday that they discovered two new variants of the coronavirus that likely originated in the United States – one of which quickly became the dominant strain in Columbus, Ohio over a period of three weeks in late December and January.
Like the strain first detected in the UK, the US mutations appear to make Covid-19 more contagious, but they don’t appear to affect the vaccine’s effectiveness, the researchers said.
Ohio State University researchers have not yet released their full results, but they say an unverified study is in the pipeline. They said in a press release that the new variant has three gene mutations that “have not been seen together” in the coronavirus.
One of the new strains, found in just one patient in Ohio, contains a mutation identical to the now dominant variant in the UK. Researchers concluded that it “likely appeared in a strain of the virus that is already present in the US”. However, the “Columbus strain,” which the researchers said has become dominant in the city, includes “three other gene mutations not previously seen together in SARS-CoV2.”
“This new strain of Columbus shares the same genetic backbone as previous cases we’ve studied, but these three mutations represent a significant evolution,” said Dr. Dan Jones, Ohio state vice chairman of the molecular pathology division, in a statement. “We know that shift didn’t come from the UK or South African branches of the virus.”
The researchers identified the dominant strain in Columbus as COH.20G / 501Y and said that “the same mutation may appear independently in several parts of the world in recent months.”
Peter Mohler, chief scientist at Wexner Medical Center in Ohio, United States and co-author of the upcoming study, said there was no data to suggest the new strain would affect vaccine effectiveness.
“It is important that we do not overreact to this new variant until we receive additional data,” he said in a statement. “We need to understand the effects of mutations on the transmission of the virus, the prevalence of the strain in the population, and the effects on human health.
Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not immediately return CNBC’s request for comment. The Ohio researchers will hold a press conference about their discovery at 11 p.m. ET.
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