New double mutant COVID-19 variant identified in Bay Area, Stanford doctor explains

SAN FRANCISCO -- There's been confirmation of the very first case of that new COVID-19 variant found in the Bay Area.

A Stanford team of researchers identified the strain, originating out of India.

The Stanford doctor who leads the laboratory that just identified that "double mutant" variant, Dr. Benjamin Pinsky, spoke to ABC7's sister station ABC7 News on the show "Getting Answers."

First, describe when and how your team came about this particular strain?

"We screen all positives that come through the Stanford Clinical Virology Laboratory for mutations associated with variants of concern," said Dr. Pinsky. "So we initially identified this through that process, through R2PCR similar to what we do for standard diagnoses of COVID-19. And so far we've sequenced one case, and confirmed that it was, in fact, one of these double mutant variants that was recently identified out of India."

Why is this variant being called a double mutant?

"It has two somewhat well-described mutations," said Dr. Pinsky. "In the spike protein of the virus, this includes the L452R mutation, which is found in the California variant, and then it has a mutation in another position, E484, that's found in the South Africa and the Brazil variant."

Is it any more dangerous? More transmissible?

"We don't quite know that yet, although these mutations I've talked about have been associated with increased transmissibility," said Dr. Pinsky. "In fact, in India this new variant accounts for 15 to 20% of cases in one particular state."

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Do you know if the current vaccines will be effective against it?

"I don't think we know whether the vaccines will be less effective against this variant," said Dr. Pinsky. "We do have some information on experiments on the individual mutations suggesting that antibodies will be less able to neutralize this India variant."

Despite the uncertainty about the impacts of these new variants, Dr. Pinsky still urges the public to get vaccinated.

"It's important to note that the vaccines are very effective in preventing severe disease, so everyone should continue to get vaccinated as quickly as possible," said Pinsky.

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