Minnesota has confirmed its first case of the South African variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.
Having already seen cases of the variants first reported in the U.K. and Brazil confirmed in recent months, Minnesota now has its first case of the B.1.351 variant.
The Minnesota Department of Health says that the variant was found by a commercial laboratory in a specimen from a Minnesota patient, which was confirmed by the CDC on Wednesday.
The person with the virus is in their 40s and from the Twin Cities. They became ill on Jan. 24, and was tested on Jan. 29. They had no recent travel history but "may have had exposure to someone with international travel."
They did not require hospitalization, but MDH says they are watching the situation as their specimen "had an additional mutation to the virus that may make immunity from vaccine or prior infection less responsive."
“The virus continues to mutate as all viruses do,” Malcolm said. “That’s yet another reason why we want to limit COVID-19 transmission – the fewer people who get COVID-19, the fewer opportunities the virus has to mutate. The good news is that we can slow that process by wearing masks, keeping social distance, staying home when sick, and getting tested when appropriate."
The patient in question was advised to isolate after being confirmed COVID positive, while their close contacts were asked to observe quarantine.
There have been new studies suggesting the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines may not be as effective against the South African variant as they are against the U.K. variant – of which dozens of cases have been confirmed in Minnesota – and the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 that appeared last year.
The Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine has been found to be relatively effective against the South African variant. It's less effective at preventing symptomatic illness compared to the original COVID strain, but it is "highly effective" at preventing severe illness, ABC reports.
Pharmaceutical companies are in the process of testing new vaccines or booster shots to combat the new variants that have appeared.