First Known Case Of Brazilian Coronavirus Variant Strain Detected In US

(Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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A new coronavirus variant that emerged in Brazil has been discovered in Minnesota in what is believed to be the first such case in the U.S., the Minnesota Department of Health announced Monday.

The variant, called P.1, was confirmed to be found in a resident of the Twin Cities metro area with a recent travel history to Brazil, according to the state’s health department. The variant was detected through genomic sequencing as part of the department’s variant surveillance program, which allows the state to monitor what forms of COVID-19 are circulating.

The Brazil variant is one of three mutations that have alarmed world leaders and scientists. While the U.K. variant has been detected in nearly two dozen states, until Monday, the Brazilian and South African variants had not been a confirmed presence in America. Scientists are concerned about the variant, which has been circulating in Manaus, Brazil, since at least December, because it contains a cluster of worrying mutations, NPR reported.

Some of the mutations that the variant contains increase the virus’s transmissibility, while others protect the virus from the body’s immune system.

More data is needed to determine how much protection vaccines provide against these mutations, although Moderna announced that its COVID-19 vaccine is effective against the new variants from the U.K. and South Africa. 

Moderna said the vaccine produces neutralizing antibodies that can disable the virus. While the U.K. variant has no impact on the levels of antibodies produced, the South African variant reduced the levels sixfold, although the antibodies were still at levels expected to provide protection. Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr. Tal Zaks, told The New York Times that experts expect the Brazilian variant to be similar to the South African variant. (RELATED: Moderna Says Vaccine Protects Against New Coronavirus Variants, But Less Effective Against South Africa Strain)

Britain’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said Friday that the new variant in the U.K. may be more deadly than the original strain, although more research is needed. However, he added that there was growing confidence that the new strain was 30% to 70% more transmissible, meaning the virus can be more easily spread than the original strain. The U.K. strain has become dominant in southern England, but many scientists are most concerned about the strains that emerged in South Africa and Brazil. 

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson cautioned that the government may “need to take further measures still” to prevent the other variants from entering the country. President Joe Biden announced Monday that he would revoke President Donald Trump’s plans to end coronavirus travel bans in Europe and South America, and said he would add South Africa to the list.