Cleveland Clinic researchers have potentially detected a COVID-19 variant in Ohio related to the predominant strain of virus that has been linked to the outbreak in India.
The data is still preliminary, but Cleveland Clinic doctors will review findings from lab samples Monday and send the information to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Tuesday, said Dr. Daniel Rhoads, section head of microbiology at the Cleveland Clinic.
“In our most recent run, we did identify two variants that look like the B.1.617.2 variant,” Rhoads said.
The variant was detected in the past week from two recently positive samples. Rhoads didn't know demographic information like where the people are located, but he said that information will be available once the report for ODH is compiled.
One of the new strains that has caused a massive surge in cases and deaths in India is labeled B.1.617. The variant identified in Cleveland Clinic testing is B.1.617.2, so the strains are slightly different but related, Rhoads said.
The labeling system is determined by comparing the mutation to the original virus and determining where in the gene sequence the change is occurring.
This news from the Cleveland Clinic comes just days after the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced that the variant B.1.617 was found there. Michigan and Ohio share borders in the northwestern corner of the state. Officials there confirmed the variant — B.1.617 — was found in a person in Clinton County, north of Lansing, Mich.
Rhoads said all the vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson, will likely be effective as the virus continues to mutate, however, more research is needed to determine the efficacy rate against the variants.
"All the data that we have so far show that the vaccines that out work very well against all the variants that are circulating," he said. "Sometimes they might work slightly less well, but a 95 percent is better than a zero percent right now, and I think all the vaccines are doing pretty well against all the variants that have been studied so far."
Health officials are still researching the differences between the different variants, but there are some things they all have in common, Rhoads said.
“It still causes COVID. Vaccines still work to help to prevent the infection. It’s still spread through respiratory secretions,” he said.
The variants are typically more contagious though, and Rhoads said that’s a concern as some of the variants become more prevalent than the original strain of the virus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitors variants of interest and concern. Rhoads is particularly interested in using data to determine how many infections are caused by each variant.
Future vaccine development is another reason for collecting data on variants, Rhoads said.
“I think for the most part, everyone’s kind of watching and monitoring which variants are circulating,” he said. “I think it will probably influence future vaccine development in the long term, but I don’t think in the short term there will be a big pivot or change in approach.”
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