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Report: Health officials confirm South Africa COVID-19 variant in Alaska

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CDC image of COVID-19(MGN)
Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 12:55 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - State public health officials detected a new COVID-19 variant in the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna Valley area.

Officials published a report Tuesday announcing B.1.351, which was first identified in South Africa, is responsible for one COVID-19 case in Alaska. The variant was first identified in the state on March 20, 2021.

The report does not say how the infected person contracted the virus or if others were exposed. However, during Alaska’s COVID-19 ECHO Informational Session on Wednesday afternoon, Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist for the Alaska Division of Public Health, said the individual did not have a travel history.

“This variant is concerning because it has shown to be significantly more transmissible (50%) than the original SARS-CoV-2 lineages,” officials said in the report.

Update on COVID-19 in Alaska

Watch: State health officials are providing the latest information about the virus, COVID-19 cases in Alaska, vaccines, recent trends and more. Today's science echo comes a day after a report was released announcing a new variant of the virus was identified in the state.

Posted by Alaska's News Source on Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Thursday, during a COVID-19 informational session for members of the media, Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said some vaccines approved for use in other countries are not very efficacious against the mutation, but the three vaccines available to Alaskans are valuable tools when it comes to preventing illness from the variant.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, what I’ve seen is more around sort of high 50s, like 57% efficacy against the B.1.351 strain, and then the mRNA vaccine, even higher than that,” he said.

Dr. Jayme Parker, a microbiologist and chief of the state’s Public Health Laboratories in Anchorage and Fairbanks, agreed.

“I think that 50-60% efficacy is better than no vaccine at all,” she said.

Parker said the state is working now to try to find additional cases that might be connected to the first.

“Once we get a single case of a variant of concern and it’s not associated with travel, we really do rely on case tracers and [epidemiology] to kind of point us in the right directions to find additional specimens that could potentially be related,” she explained. “And so at this point, that’s where we are.”

Parker said any additional cases of the variant detected will be noted in the state’s future COVID-19 situation reports.

By Tuesday, 61,695 COVID-19 resident cases had been reported since the first case arrived in Alaska back in March 2020.

The report also noted an increase in other variants of COVID-19, such as five new cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom. And 18 cases of the B.1.429 variant, which was first identified in California.

Both variants were discovered in Alaska in December 2020.

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