September 22, 2021

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Minnesota Coronavirus Variant Discovery Raises Concerning Questions – Minneapolis Star Tribune – Tell It Like It News

The discovery in Minnesota last week of the nation’s first COVID-19 infection from a more contagious Brazilian variant is raising concerns that pandemic cases may accelerate, although more information is needed on the exact nature of the threat.

As with the variants that emerged in the UK and South Africa, scientists believe the strain spreads more easily and quickly than others, potentially making more people sick.

But health officials aren’t sure if it’s spreading to Minnesota. The state Department of Health said last week that it identified the strain in a specimen from a resident who recently traveled to the South American nation. Furthermore, it is unclear to what extent the immune system protection stimulated by vaccines or a previous SARS-CoV-2 infection will work against the Brazilian variant.

Concerns over variants come amid otherwise encouraging signals about the pandemic in Minnesota, with thousands of residents vaccinated every day and a recent drop in new cases.

“We are in a very, very difficult time,” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. “The variants of concern are… serious reasons for concern, but at the moment we don’t know enough to be definitive.

“And this is happening at a time when vaccines are starting to become available and people are starting to feel they can relax. It is dangerous for many reasons. “

Minnesota reported 1,087 new coronavirus cases and 19 more deaths due to complications from COVID-19 on Saturday. The seven-day moving average for new cases has dropped to around 1,002 per day, the lowest reading since late September, according to the Star Tribune coronavirus tracker.

The statewide count for people who received at least one dose of the vaccine increased by 35,568 in the latest version of the data, to a total of 381,204 people. That’s about 6.7 percent of the state’s population, up from 4 percent a week ago, according to Star Tribune estimates.

Variants are common when viruses replicate, changing over time as they collect mutations, said Sara Vetter, acting assistant director of the state public health laboratory in St. Paul, during a briefing with reporters last week. Most mutations have no impact on the virus, Vetter said, but in some cases a group of mutations can change the way a virus spreads or causes disease.

The Brazilian strain is one of three “variants of concern” the Department of Health is watching closely, Vetter said.

“Although variants may impact the vaccine, a vaccine is not likely to be rendered completely ineffective,” he said. “Furthermore, if this virus continues to change and evolve, it is important to note that mRNA vaccines, such as Pfizer and Moderna, are easily adaptable and can be updated.”

Earlier this month, Minnesota reported its first five cases of variant B.1.1.7 which was first found in the UK. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to which there are now 434 cases in 30 states, the state’s tally has risen through Friday. Last week, South Carolina became the first state to find cases of variant B.1.351 that has been linked to South Africa.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a press conference last week that vaccine-stimulated antibodies appear to work well against variant B.1.1.7 while providing less protection. , but still significant. against the South African strain.

“With P.1, we just don’t know,” Hanage said, using the scientific name for the Brazilian-related variant.

For now, the lack of certainty “should be a very strong impetus to vaccinate as many people as possible,” Hanage said. “Because to limit transmission, if your vaccine is less effective, you have to vaccinate more people to provide that firebreak, which you get by vaccinating them.”

It is not yet known whether the Brazilian variant causes more serious diseases, says the Department of Health. It emerged in Manaus, a city in the Amazon region where scientists estimate that a widespread SARS-CoV-2 outbreak last year infected about 75 percent of residents.

If many residents are now reinfected, this could be a worrying sign that patients facing the variant are “back to square one” in terms of protecting their immune systems, said Dr Priya Sampathkumar, an infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic. It may be, however, that there is still some protection from the previous infection.

“What we don’t know is: are reinfections that bad? Or, do people do better the second time around? “Sampathkumar said.” So, that’s something we need to watch and pay attention to. “

He also stresses the importance of slowing down transmissions in general, as “the fewer people are infected with COVID, the less chance the virus will produce these mutations,” he said.

While scientists are getting data showing that the British variant is more transmissible and a little more virulent, there isn’t as much information on the Brazilian variant, Hanage said. The fact that Minnesota found the variant in someone who recently traveled to Brazil is good news, he said, because it suggests it may not yet be widespread in the community. Even so, the relative lack of genomic sequencing of viruses in the United States also means that the spread of the variant is likely not fully known.

As sequencing capacity in the United States increases, “we expect more variants to be identified as this pandemic progresses,” said Vetter, deputy director of the state laboratory.

Health officials point out that they understand a key aspect of the Brazilian variant: its transmission can be interrupted by the same measures recommended during the pandemic, such as wearing masks and maintaining social distance. This means that “this is a good time to double down on these efforts and try to prevent any spread, because we know that spread will be more efficient with these variants,” said Dr. Mark Sannes, Infectious Disease Specialist at HealthPartners.

The Department of Health reported Saturday that 105,361 people have now completed their two-dose series of vaccinations, up from 59,715 on Saturday.

Residents of long-term care and assisted living facilities accounted for 11 of the newly announced deaths and 3,922 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Since the virus began infecting Minnesota in March, the state has reported 460,819 positive cases, 24,269 hospitalizations, and 6,187 deaths.

The state’s one-day count of 1,087 new cases came out of a volume of 32,732 just-completed tests. The recent trend on cases is encouraging, Sannes said.

“If we can keep our case numbers here where they are right now, and keep getting our most vulnerable people vaccinated,” he said, “we will continue to see fewer hospitalizations and fewer deaths.”

Christopher Snowbeck • 612-673-4744