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New coronavirus variant spotted in California raises alarm

A version of this story appeared in the February 24 edition of CNN’s Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction newsletter. Sign up here to receive the need-to-know headlines every weekday.

Two studies due to come out soon suggest the variant, which the virologists call B.1.427/B.1.429, might not only be more contagious, but may also cause more severe disease.

A team of scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), tested virus samples from recent outbreaks across the state and found the new variant was becoming far more common. It wasn’t seen in any samples from September but by the end of January it was found in half of them.

A major caveat: the research is in its very early stages, has not been published or peer-reviewed and needs more work.

The scientists say the variant has a different pattern of mutations than the ones first seen in the United Kingdom and South Africa. One of its mutations affects the spike protein of the virus, which is the part that attaches to cells the virus infects. Dr. Charles Chiu, associate director of the clinical microbiology lab at UCSF and the study’s lead, said the mutation might make the virus more efficient at docking to cells, increasing its infectiousness.

Chiu’s team also found some evidence it is more dangerous. The scientists said they observed “increased severity of disease” associated with the new variant, including “increased risk of high oxygen requirement.” Their report will be posted to a preprint server later this week after public health officials in San Francisco review it.

New variants could cause complications in the coming weeks in the United States, even though infections are currently declining across the country and more people are being vaccinated.

Public health experts fear new variants are outpacing the vaccinations, which is why many have highlighted the need to double down on safety measures like wearing face masks, social distancing and avoiding crowded areas.

So far, more than 1,900 cases of coronavirus strains first spotted in the UK, South Africa and Brazil have been reported across the US, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows. Most of those cases — about 1,881 — are of the variant first identified in the UK that the CDC has previously warned could become the predominant strain by next month.

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED

Q: How should I prepare for my Covid-19 vaccination?

A: Wait for your turn to make an appointment and ensure you follow all the instructions. Check if you need to fill in any paperwork in advance and bring all required documentation. Know what you need and make sure you have it.

Try to get all the information in advance. “You want to minimize your time at the vaccination site, and the people there are likely to be very busy and may not have the time to answer your questions in-depth,” said CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. She said many answers can be found at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention FAQs website.

And yes, you should absolutely wear a mask to your appointment.

Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.

WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY

Step inside Russia’s new Covid-19 vaccine factory

The facility where Soviet scientists once researched biological weapons is now being used to mass-produce a Covid-19 vaccine. Home to Generium Pharmaceutical, which has been contracted to scale up production of the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, the vast high-tech complex in Volginsky, about 70 miles east of Moscow, is one of seven new factories across the country.

Sputnik V has become one of the world’s most preordered vaccines, with at least 30 countries signing contracts for nearly 2.5 billion doses, according to figures from the Russian Direct Investment Fund. But demand among Russians for Sputnik V has proven much less enthusiastic, Zahra Ullah and Matthew Chance report.

Ghana is first country to get vaccines through COVAX

Ghana is today getting the world’s first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines through the World Health Organization’s COVAX program, which aims to deliver vaccines to low and middle-income countries that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them.

The country of 30 million is getting 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India. Ghana has reported at least 80,759 cases of Covid-19 and 582 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Last month, India and the African Union announced plans for the Serum Institute to supply 400 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Africa. The global vaccine rollout has been incredibly unequal though: of the more than 212 million vaccine doses that have been administered around the world, most went to people living in wealthy countries.

US to get 240 million vaccine doses by April

The United States can expect to receive 240 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine by the end of March, drug companies told a House subcommittee Tuesday.

Pfizer and Moderna — the two companies with Covid-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States — have pledged to make a combined total of 220 million doses available for shipment by the end of March. Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson, which could secure emergency use authorization for its Covid-19 vaccine from the US Food and Drug Administration later this week, has pledged to make 20 million doses available in the same period.

ON OUR RADAR

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Quarantines, social distancing, remote learning, WFH … no wonder the pandemic has led to a huge spike in people feeling lonely.
There are ways to decrease loneliness even in a lockdown. For example, this new study shows that talking to someone on the phone for just 10 minutes several times a week — if you’re in control of the conversation — can make a big difference.

TODAY’S PODCAST

“We found real new data on human cases in December, a lot more cases than we thought and a lot more cases that weren’t associated with the market.” — Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance

Zoologist and the president of EcoHealth Alliance Peter Daszak has just returned from Wuhan, China. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks to him about what it’s like there now, and his findings as part of a World Health Organization investigation Listen now.

Source: New coronavirus variant spotted in California raises alarm

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