Variant B.1.617 spreads in India and UK, and arrives in US: get vaccinated ASAP

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By Daniel R. Lucey MD, MPH, FIDSA

The World Health Organization declared the SARS-CoV-2 variant “B.1.617”, first recognized in India, a “variant of concern” May 10.

The United Kingdom did the same May 7 for the sublineage “B.1.617.2.”

The United States has found and reported only a small number of cases, in at least five states so far. The CDC considers B.1617 only a variant of interest (rather than concern).

B.1.617 is another reason to get vaccinated ASAP, wherever possible inside or outside the US, and to provide vaccines to India and neighboring nations in south Asia and beyond. 

An interim summary of variants including B.1.617 and others spreading in India appears in the May 11 Nature by Gayathri Vaidyanathan.

Today (Monday, May 17) the BBC reported the UK Health Minister, Matt Hancock, was concerned that this variant has been confirmed in 2,323 cases in the UK and may soon overtake the variant B.1.117 first found in Kent, UK in 2020. Hancock said B.1.617 was now dominant in Bolton, Blackburn, and Darwen and present in 86 of 343 “local authorities” in the UK. Discussion is ongoing as to whether the rapid spread of B.1.617 will change the plan for final removal of COVID restrictions in the UK on June 21. Some UK restrictions were removed today.

Each of these five references above include some preliminary information regarding how protective against infection vaccines appear to be. My understanding as of today is that vaccination can at least slow the spread of B.1.617.

Dr. Daniel Lucey

Daniel Lucey, M.D. MPH, FIDSA, FACP, is a Clinical Professor of Medicine at Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, Infectious Disease adjunct Professor at Georgetown Medical Center, senior scholar at Georgetown Law, Anthropology Research Associate at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America Global Health Committee. He served as a volunteer to outbreaks overseas including hands-on Ebola patient care in Sierra Leone and Liberia (Doctors without Borders) 2014, MERS 2013, SARS 2003, as well as HIV, H5N1, Zika, yellow Fever, and pneumonic plague 2017 (with WHO/USAID/CDC).  Since Jan. 6, 2020 he has contributed more than 100 posts to Science Speaks on COVID-19 and traveled to China in February 2020. He initially proposed, then fundraised and helped design the content for 2018-2022 Smithsonian Exhibition on Epidemics due to zoonotic viruses. From 1982-1988 he trained at University of California San Francisco and Harvard and was an attending physician at the NIH (NIAID) in the 1990s while in the U.S. Public Health Service.

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