More needs to be done to find and fight COVID-19 variants, says Colorado researcher

Coronavirus

AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) – The novel coronavirus can rapidly mutate inside of compromised patients and give way to new and more dangerous variants, according to new research from a University of Colorado School of Medicine scientist.

David Pollock, a professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics, co-authored the research in the journal “Nature.”

He studied a patient in his 70s who had COVID-19 and cancer. In just weeks, the virus mutated multiple times and variants that survived were the strongest and most dangerous.

“It’s allowing for a much more rapid accumulation of mutations…than if they go on to infect other people,” Pollock said.

In the case of the patient Pollock studied, who ultimately died, the variants were not allowed to escape and infect others. But in other cases the variants do. This has most likely led to the more infectious and possibly more harmful variants in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.

“This is like a pandemic in a pandemic,” Pollock said. “These are spreading amongst the people who are infected.”

These variants are also affecting the COVID-19 vaccine. This is most notable with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which went through clinical trials later than the vaccines currently approved.

The vaccine was 72% effective in the United States, but just 58% effective in South Africa, where a variant was running rampant.

“The worry and the concern is that the vaccines will be less effective,” Pollock said. “It’s much better to take the vaccine. You’re much (more) likely to be better off if you’re protected against the old virus.”

Pollock said one way to get ahead of the variants is to do more genome sequencing. He’s now pushing the state to do that.

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