UCSF doctor weighs in on new COVID variant identified in Texas

Researchers at Texas A&M University identified a variant of the COVID-19 virus they say has genetic markers suggesting potential resistance to antibodies, according to a statement from the university.  

“We do not at present know the full significance of this variant, but it has a combination of mutations similar to other internationally notifiable variants of concern,” Ben Neuman, a chief virologists at the university’s Global Health Research Complex, said. “This variant combines genetic markers separately associated with rapid spread, severe disease and high resistance to neutralizing antibodies.”

The so-called BV-1 is related to the B.1.1.7 variant that caused a surge in the United Kingdom, the university said.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at UCSF, said she’s not concerned about this variant yet, as she has not seen the actual peer-reviewed data that it is resistant to antibodies.  

“There were reports initially that B.1.351 [the variant first identified in South Africa], and other variants were resistant to antibodies but those were reversed by other reports and the 6 month data on the Pfizer vaccine roll-out which showed 100% efficacy against severe disease, even with the B.1.352 variant,” Gandhi explained in an email. “Moreover, variants are covered by vaccines, specifically when considering T cell responses generated by the vaccines that are able to neutralize different variants.”

Texas A&M researchers identified a single case of the variant at the university’s Global Health Research Complex in a saliva sample taken from a Texas A&M student in early March.

The variant was named for the “Brazos Valley,” the seven-county region where Texas A&M is located. 

As the United States continues to issue vaccines, worrying variants are spreading and triggering surges in some states. California has thus far avoided a significant uptick in cases. The seven-day positivity rate in the state was 1.5% as of Wednesday, among the lowest in the country. 

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