Explainer: COVID-19 Variants

covid-19 variants

In a nutshell, COVID-19 Variants are the result of the virus’ mutations. When the virus infects a person, it picks up, deletes or swaps a genetic code here and there. This is due to the “tiny errors as the virus takes over the cell’s molecular machinery to copy itself.” Although this occurs most of the time, it only produces little changes that scientists can use to trace its transmission. However, there are instances where mutations completely alter virus transmission and severity. These groundbreaking mutations thus lead to the recent COVID-19 variants, slowly making its way around the world. 

Get to know the three major Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome CoronaVirus 2 

(SARS-CoV-2) variants below:

The United Kingdom B.1.1.7 lineage (a.k.a. 20I/501Y.V1 Variant of Concern (VOC) 202012/01)

In September 2020, the B.1.1.7 variant first appeared in the United Kingdom. Three months after, several countries released reports of B.1.1.7 lineage cases. Just recently, the Department of Health reports 8 cases for the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant. This brings a total of 25 B.1.1.7 variant cases to the country.

UK VARIANT MUTATIONS

Below are the other known details about the UK variant:

  • Studies report the variant to have increased transmissibility, meaning that it has a more efficient and rapid transmission.
  • UK researchers released evidence on January 21, 2021, announcing that “there is a realistic possibility that the infection with the B.1.1.7 variant has an increased risk of death over the other COVID-19 variants.”
  • Other than an increased risk of death, researchers also found how the UK variant increases disease severity compared with the different variants.
  • Although it increases transmissibility, risk of death, and disease severity, recent studies found no evidence of the UK variant’s impact on vaccine efficacy.

The South Africa B.1.351 lineage (a.k.a. 20H/501Y.V2)

The B.1.351 variant was first discovered in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa from the October 2020 samples. Ever since the discovery, cases for the South Africa variant has increased in different parts of the globe. The Philippines, however, reports no cases of the B.1.351 COVID-19 variant yet.

SOUTH AFRICA VARIANT MUTATIONS

  • Mutations in the spike proteins K417N, E484K, and N501Y.

Below are the other known details about the South Africa variant:

  • Although this variant emerged in October 2020, it only became predominant in the country after it was identified in Zambia in December.
  • Unlike the UK variant, there has been no evidence that suggests B. 1.351’s impact on the COVID-19 disease severity.
  • However, some evidence indicates the E484K spick protein mutation may “affect neutralization by some polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies.”

The Brazil P.1 lineage (a.k.a. 20J/501Y.V3)

Unlike the other variants discovered in the country they originated from, Brazil was not the first to identify the P.1 variant. Instead, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) in Japan on January 2 identified the variant. This was during the routine screening at Haneda airport, just outside Tokyo. There, four travellers from Brazil tested positive for P.1 lineage. Like the South Africa variant, there are also no reports of Brazil’s cases variant in the Philippines.

BRAZIL VARIANT MUTATIONS

  • Mutations in the spike protein receptor-binding domain (RBD), including K417N, E484K, and N501Y.

Below are the other known details about the Brazil variant:

  • Recently, a study presented evidence that raises the concern of the Brazil COVID-19 variant regarding its increase in transmissibility or propensity for reinfection. This concern stems from the variant’s mutations that may affect the antibodies’ ability to recognize and neutralize the virus. Here are a few key details of the mentioned study:

Researchers studied the cases in Amazon’s largest region, Manaus. They identified about 42% of the specimens gathered starting December 2020 as P.1 variants. Before the variant’s discovery, around 75% of the Manaus population were already infected with the Coronavirus. However, there was a surge of cases in the region when the P.1 variant was identified.

  • The Brazil P.2 lineage. There is evidence that suggests the emergence of the Brazil P.2 COVID-19 variant. However, unlike the P.1 variant, this new Brazil variant only carries the E484K mutation. As such, scientists raise concerns about how the virus is evolving for there is a possibility that its continued evolution will allow it to avoid parts of the immune system. Fortunately, there is still no evidence suggesting the variant’s ability to affect the vaccine’s effectiveness amid the trepidation.

Stay updated about COVID-19 variants!

It may be an alarming idea, but the emergence of mutations was always expected to occur over time. Some variants will emerge and disappear, while others emerge and persist. But scientists all over the globe carefully monitor these mutations. With these changes, they continue to understand the virus, such as how it works, transmits, and how it affects infected individuals.

Sources:

Emerging SARS-CoV-2 Variants | CDC

New Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19 | CDC

What we know about the new Covid-19 variants – BBC Future

COVID-19 variants: What’s the concern? – Mayo Clinic