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The looming questions scientists need to answer about the new variant of the coronavirus

Article by Andrew Joseph published online at statnews.com December 21, 2020.

Have you heard there is a new “strain” of the virus that causes COVID-19? Several people have sent me questions about this. Scientists are referring to it not as a new strain but as a novel variant of the coronavirus, first spotted in the United Kingdom where it is now the dominant version of the virus in many areas. The new variant, referred to as B.1.1.7 or VUI-202012/01, contains between 17 and 60 genetic mutations. This has led to stricter lockdowns in England and travel bans for UK residents. Scientists are working hard to determine whether it functions differently than previous variants in 3 key ways: A) does it spread more easily, B) does it cause more or less severe disease and C) can it evade our vaccines or our hard-fought natural immunity? So far, it looks like the answer to A) may be yes (the jury is still out). There is, so far, no solid evidence the answers to B and C are yes. This article by Andrew Joseph lays out what we now know and don’t about this development, striking the right balance between caution and concern. I am following developments about this as well as another variant being tracked in South Africa and will keep you updated as the science evolves.


Today’s bite-sized, handpicked selection of important news, information or science for all who want to know where this epidemic is going and what we should do.

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