Its existence is not a novelty, but its presence and dispersion is at least worrying. Especially given its infective capacity in Colombia and after being detected now in different patients in South Florida, which has led the WHO to consider it as a variant under study.
It is the strain B.1.621, which was described for the first time in January 2021 in Colombia. Since then, it has spread to 19 other countries in America and Europe.
At the moment, the places with the most cases of covid-19 related to this variant, after Colombia, are the United States, Spain, Mexico and the Netherlands.
Specifically in Florida, this variant is increasing infections and has put health officials on alert.
B.1.621, on the WHO alert list
Along with 12 other new variants, B.1.621 is considered one of those that currently needs to be monitored and studied, which is why it has been included in an “alert list” of the World Health Organization.
But since its inclusion in this list is relatively new, it has not yet been assigned a Greek letter as a name, as it happened with the variants of concern (VOC) Alpha (UK), Beta (South Africa), Gamma (Brazil) and Delta (India).
The variants of interest (VOI) Epsilon (United States), Zeta (Brazil), Eta (Various countries), Theta (Philippines), Iota (United States), Kappa (India), Lambda (Peru) also have Greek names.
5 mutations, one of them new
What is known so far about this B.1.621 variant is that, according to the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it has at least five major mutations in the spike protein, which is the structure found in the exterior of the coronavirus and is responsible for attaching itself to the receptors of our cells and initiating the infection.
Four of these genetic alterations (E484K, N501Y, D614G and P681H) had already been observed in other more worrisome variants, such as Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. But the R346K mutation appears to be new and has not been described in other versions of the virus.
In addition, according to the Washington Post, the executive director of Jackson Health System, the B.1.621 variant could already account for around 10 percent of coronavirus patients, and would have been ranked third, after the Delta variant, a very prominent leader, and the Gamma variant.
And it is that these modifications that appear in the genetic code can make the infectious agent even more transmissible, which always represents a danger for the control of the pandemic.
Even the European CDC has commented that this variant could have some impact on the immunity obtained after having passed the covid-19 or by vaccination. But it has made it clear that these issues are unclear and still need to be studied further.
In Colombia it is already 24% of infections
At the moment the data does not seem overly worrisome, but a global genomic surveillance initiative called Gisaid reports that this variant already represents 24% of all samples analyzed in Colombia.
And that it seems to have spread easily even to areas that were considered to have achieved group immunity.
That is why the experts have decided to include B.1.621 in the list and carry out laboratory tests, especially considering that the autumn season is approaching and there are many people in the world to be vaccinated.
However, to date Public Health England has said that “there is currently no evidence to indicate that this variant causes more serious disease or evades the efficacy of vaccines.
Furthermore, in the United States, according to the data currently being handled, this variant represents just over 2.1%.
But we should not forget that the Delta variant went from accounting for only 10% of infections in early June, to more than 80% of infections in mid-July.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.