U.K. COVID Variant Has Now Been Reported in 20 U.S. States and 60 Countries, WHO and CDC Say

The new, more infectious U.K. COVID variant has now been reported in at least 20 U.S. states and 60 countries around the world, data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows.

The variant, known as VOC 202012/01 or lineage B.1.1.7, was first detected in the U.K. toward the end of last year. It has been linked to a significant spike in infections there.

Scientists say the variant is 50-70 percent more transmissible, although it does not appear to cause more severe disease.

On Tuesday, the WHO released its weekly epidemiological update on the pandemic, reporting that B.1.1.7 has been detected in 10 additional countries since January 12—when the last update was published.

Countries outside the U.K. that have so far reported the B.1.1.7 variant include Japan, China, Australia, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Canada and the U.S.

On January 12 and 15, the WHO hosted two global virtual meetings of scientific experts to discuss the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants.

"The participants of both meetings emphasized the importance of coordinated research to detect and understand early the potential impact of emerging variants on diagnostics, treatments, the efficacy of vaccines, the impact of vaccines on transmission of infection, and the need to develop the next generation of vaccine platforms," the WHO said in its weekly report.

According to the latest available figures from the CDC, the U.K. variant has now been detected in 20 U.S. states: Oregon, California, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Georgia, Florida, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The majority of cases have been identified in Florida (46) and California (40,) CDC data shows.

In total, more than 120 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant have been detected across the country, but the CDC says their figures only represent those based on sampling of SARS-CoV-2-positive specimens, meaning the true number is likely to be higher.

Last week the CDC published a report suggesting that the new U.K. variant is likely to experience "rapid growth" in early 2021, becoming the dominant strain in the U.S. by March.

The emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants, like those identified in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil, is causing concern that the genetic mutations they exhibit may reduce the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

On Tuesday, a paper that has yet to be peer-reviewed, was submitted to the pre-print server bioRxiv suggesting that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine might be protective against the B.1.1.7 lineage.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus
Artist's rendering of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A variant of the virus first detected in the U.K. has now been reported in 60 countries across the globe, the WHO said. iStock