Scientists in South Africa say they have detected a new variant of COVID-19.
The country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases announced Monday in a new study that the variant, which has been designated C.1.2, was first detected in South Africa in May of this year, and has since spread to seven other countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the southern Pacific region of Oceania.
The scientists say the C.1.2 variant appears to have the same characteristics as that of other mutations that are more transmissible and more able to overtake a person’s immune system.
The study has not been published nor has it undergone the normal peer review process. The scientists say they are still monitoring the frequency of the C.1.2 variant, and that it has not evolved as either a “variant of interest” or “variant of concern” under the guidelines established by the World Health Organization.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that the three COVID-19 vaccines currently in use in the United States remain highly effective in preventing severe disease. Dr. Sara Oliver, a CDC scientist, told a vaccine advisory panel that the COVID-19 vaccine was 94% effective in preventing hospitalization for adults between the ages of 18 to 74 between April and July, when the delta variant became dominant.
The vaccine’s effectiveness against hospitalization dropped among adults 75 and older, but was still above 80%.
Dr. Oliver told the panel the vaccines appear to be less effective in preventing infection or mild illness, which she said was due to the vaccine’s weakening over time and the more contagious delta variant.
The advisory committee is considering whether to recommend authorizing booster shots of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines amid a surge of new COVID-19 infections across the United States. The Biden administration recently announced it will begin offering a third shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine sometime next month. Both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration have recently recommended a third shot of Pfizer or Moderna for some people with weakened immune systems.
The committee unanimously voted Monday to recommend the Pfizer vaccine for Americans 16 years old and older.
In a separate development Monday, the CDC added seven new destinations to its highest risk level of its COVID-19 travel advisory list.
Azerbaijan, Estonia, Guam, North Macedonia, the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia and Switzerland have been designated as Level 4, which signifies a “very high” risk of contracting COVID-19. The CDC says people should avoid travel to these destinations, and advises that anyone who must travel to these spots needs to be fully vaccinated.
In New Zealand, health officials Tuesday reported another decline in new COVID-19 cases since Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern placed the country under a strict lockdown earlier this month. The health ministry posted 49 new cases on Tuesday, after reporting 53 cases Monday and 83 new cases Sunday.
Ardern imposed the strict lockdown on August 17 after a 58-year-old man in Auckland became the first person to test positive for COVID-19 since February. About 612 new cases have since been posted, with Auckland posting 597 and 15 detected in the capital, Wellington, according to Reuters.
Some information for this report came from Reuters.