Greg Scott, Livermore
Congressman Swalwell, you are probably aware there is a new mutant variant of SARS-CoV-2 discovered in Southeast England.
Its name is SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01 (Variant Under Investigation, 2020, Dec./ Dec. Variant #1) or "B.1.1.7." It was first detected on Sept. 20, 2020, and led to a large active infection increase in Kent in early October through early December and is continuing to spread relentlessly in Great Britain. This variant was reported by the United Kingdom (U.K.) to the WHO (World Health Organization) last Dec. 14.
B.1.1.7 is now found in California.
The reason we have not detected this variant here earlier is our lack of sequencing. The United Kingdom has done 125,000 sequences out of just over 2.1 active infections - less than what California now has - and the U.S. has done 55,000 sequences in over 18 million active infections. This is unacceptable and dangerous.
B.1.1.7 has a 40% to 70% greater transmissivity rate than previous SARS-CoV-2 variants. B.1.1.7 presents no evidence of greater hospitalizations or virus fatalities; however, please recognize that transmissivity rates are exponential and that virus fatality rates are linear. A higher transmissivity rate will lead to more deaths than would an equivalent higher virus fatality rate alone.
There are 17 simultaneous amino acid residue mutations - 14 substitutions and three deletions - that have occurred in B.1.1.7. This is extraordinary from a genetic evolutionary biology standpoint. Eight of these mutations have occurred in the spike (S) protein, which is the target focus of most all vaccines.
The S protein is what attaches primarily to the host cell receptor ACE2 (Angiotensin Converting Enzyme 2). It does so with greater 'strength' with B.1.1.7 mutation "N501Y". (Asparagine, "N", is replaced with tyrosine, "Y", at the 501th position in the amino acid sequence of the S protein).
We need immediate political pressure for more vaccinations with the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna mRNA (messenger Ribo Nucleic Acid with nanoparticle lipid technology) vaccines to expedite the lowering of the transmission rates. We also need to prioritize an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for the AstraZeneca/Oxford University Adenovirus vectored vaccine that has already been approved in the U.K.
Though B.1.1.7 is not a ‘mutant-ninja’ variant, the danger is that if we do not make vaccinations and EUA's a priority imperative, we may yet get a ‘vaccine escape variant.’