Concerning virus variants, mutation emerge in Oregon

There is concern that current COVID vaccines and people who have contracted the previous virus will have less protection and immunity
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Ryan Brennecke

In this Jan. 22, 2021 photo, Sydney Murphy, a third grade teacher at Silver Rail Elementary in Bend, Ore., receives her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination from volunteer Val Leonardo, an RN and nursing coordinator at the Shepherd’s House during a vaccination clinic at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center in Redmond, Ore.

A new variant of COVID-19 and a new mutation found in Oregon may spell trouble for those who have gotten COVID-19 as well as people who have been vaccinated against it.

Viruses are known to change through mutation. New variants of a virus are expected and multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented. They are being tracked across the U.S.

There are currently 11 cases of the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant discovered in Oregon and 70 found in Washington state. There is also the B.1.351 variant, which emerged in South Africa independently of B.1.1.7.

However, the variant that most recently surfaced in Oregon is B.1.1.7 with another mutation called E484K, or “Eek,” seen in variants in South Africa, Brazil and New York City.

“We didn’t import this from elsewhere in the world — it occurred spontaneously,” Oregon Health and Science University geneticist Brian O’Roak told The New York Times.

O’Roak also told the Times the variant was discovered among coronavirus samples from across the state collected by the Oregon State Public Health Lab. The story was published Friday.

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Three days earlier, Douglas County Public Health Officer Bob Dannenhoffer said the CDC confirmed the first positive case of the P.1 variant on the West Coast.

There have only been 10 other U.S. cases of the P.1 variant: in Minnesota (2), Florida (5), Oklahoma (1), Alaska (1) and Maryland (1).

The P.1 variant also has the E484K mutation and “appears to be related to business travel outside the United States to and from Brazil,” the Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team said in a statement that also reads, in part:

The COVID-19 P.1 variant was first detected in people travelling from Brazil to Japan in early 2021. The P.1 variant has been seen mostly in Brazil, but there have been cases in Japan, as well as the United Kingdom. The P.1 variant has 17 mutations from the original virus and appears to be more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain. There is concern that the current COVID-19 vaccines, and those that have contracted the previous virus will have less protection and immunity. Local Public Health shares in the worry with the CDC, OHA and the entire scientific community, that the COVID-19 variants could be more infectious, perhaps more deadly, and maybe less well controlled by our current vaccine.

The response team said additional samples were sent to the CDC for genome sequence DNA testing for COVID-19 variants.

Dannenhoffer said the discovery underscores the need for people to comply with proven public health recommendations such as vaccination, social distancing, masking, hand washing, staying home when you are sick, isolation and quarantine.

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