Child Has Michigan's First Case of South African COVID Variant That May Resist Vaccines

Scientists have identified the first known case of the B.1.351 COVID variant in Michigan amid concern the variant may be resistant to existing vaccines.

The B.1.351 variant was first identified in South Africa in October 2020. It was then found to have been carried to the U.S. in January 2021.

On March 8, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) said the variant had been found in a male child living in Michigan's Jackson County, according to several reports. Newsweek has contacted the department for comment.

Officials are in the process of checking whether there are any additional cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there is no evidence yet to suggest the South Africa variant has any impact on the severity of illness.

Dr. Joneigh Khladun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at the MDHHS, said: "We are concerned about the discovery of another variant in Michigan, although it was not unexpected," ABC's WXYZ Detroit reported.

"We continue to urge Michiganders to follow a research-based approach by wearing their masks properly, socially distancing, avoiding crowds, washing their hands often, and making a plan to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine once it is their turn."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is tracking the spread of B.1.351 in the U.S. and as of March 7 there were 81 reported cases reported out of 20 jurisdictions.

B.1.351 may pose some resistance to existing vaccines because of a mutation to its spike proteins, which help the virus latch onto other cells.

On the same day the MDHHS announced the case in Michigan, a new study by scientists at Columbia University was published online which suggested the variant might be more resistant to vaccines than previous variants.

The scientists took blood samples from 12 people who had received two doses of the Moderna vaccine during phase 1 clinical trials, and more samples from 10 people who had been given two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

They then exposed the blood samples to the B.1.351 variant, and found that every sample they tested "lost activity against B.1.351."

"B.1.351 and emergent variants with similar spike mutations present new challenges for mAb therapy and threaten the protective efficacy of current vaccines."

B.1.351 is not the only COVID variant that has been discovered in Michigan. According to the CDC's variant tracker, the state had also seen 437 cases of another variant, B.1.1.7, as of March 7.

The variant is associated with being better at spreading between people than previous versions of COVID. It is also known as the UK variant.

The scientists in the Columbia study also tested vaccine blood samples against the UK variant and found there was "no loss of neutralizing activity against B.1.1.7."

Health worker with vaccine
A medical worker loads a syringe with the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine in California on February 16, 2021. B.1.351 may pose a level of resistance to existing vaccines. Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty