Los Angeles: Two days after health authorities in this US city announced that the much-talked-about UK variant of COVID-19, known as B.1.1.7, had been identified in the region, the California Department of Public Health has revealed that another lesser-known strain had been circulating in the county as well.
Known as L452R, the newly announced variant was first identified in Denmark in March last year. It showed up in California as early as May 2020.
Dr Charles Chiu, a virologist and professor of laboratory medicine at UCSF (University of California San Francisco), who has been genetically sequencing test samples to identify new variants, said early indications are that the L452R strain might be less susceptible to the currently approved vaccines, news website Deadline reported.
Chiu, however, added that more investigation is needed to confirm this.
“This variant carries three mutations, including L452R, in the spike protein, which the virus uses to attach to and enter cells, and is the target of the two vaccines that are currently available in the US,” Chiu said. A spike protein mutation could, then, interfere with the vaccine’s efficacy.
According to the California Department of Public Health, Santa Clara County has sequenced a large number of positive specimens collected from community testing sites and outbreaks in the county. The L452R was present in specimens from the community and from several large outbreaks, including outbreaks where very high numbers of people exposed contracted the virus.
“This variant was identified in several large outbreaks in our county,” said Santa Clara County Health Officer, Dr Sara Cody. She called that correlation “a red flag and must be investigated further”.
The new variant also has been detected in Los Angeles, Mono, Monterey, Orange, Riverside, San Francisco, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Humboldt and Lake counties. Because genomic sequencing is sparse, it is currently unknown how prevalent L452 is nationally or globally.