Oregon researchers have found a case of a rapidly spreading COVID-19 variant carrying a mutation that could be less affected by existing vaccines developed to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The case, found Feb. 6, involved the U.K. variant, which is also known as B.1.1.7 and is thought to be more deadly and contagious than the original strain of COVID-19.
That variant has been found in nearly every U.S. state. But the Oregon case also had an E484K mutation that was first detected in the South Africa COVID-19 variant in November.
Other cases of the U.K. variant combined with this mutation have been found in Britain, France and Portugal, according to a database tracking coronavirus variants. Only one other U.S. case has been recorded in the database.
Brian O’Roak, a geneticist at Oregon Health & Science University who led the work, told the New York Times the case “occurred spontaneously” and was not carried from elsewhere in the world, according to genetic analysis.
O’Roak and his colleagues analyzed 13 test results from coronavirus samples collected by the Oregon State Public Health Lab, the Times reported. Ten of the samples were the B.1.1.7 variant. One of those 10 had the E484K mutation.
The Oregon Health Authority said it is “too early to speculate” on how the spread of COVID-19 variants affects the efficacy of the currently approved vaccines in the United States by Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer.
“The current vaccines are still likely to protect against severe infections resulting in hospitalizations and deaths,” the agency said in a statement Saturday.
Researchers have found that human antibodies, which fight off sickness, are less effective against COVID-19 viruses with the E484K mutation, according to a paper that has not yet been peer-reviewed. A February research report also found the Pfizer vaccine could be less effective against the South Africa variant, which includes the E484K mutation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working to ramp up monitoring and lab sequencing of COVID-19 strains in the U.S. to gain a clearer idea of their characteristics.
Oregon’s first case of a COVID-19 variant from Brazil was also identified Tuesday in Douglas County.
The Brazil variant, which is known as the P.1 variant, also has the E484K mutation that scientists have found concerning. The Oregonian who contracted the Brazil variant had a known travel history prior to testing positive, the state health authority said.
-- Jaimie Ding
[email protected]; 503-221-4395; @j_dingdingding