First reported case of coronavirus variant B.1.351 detected in Hawaii, state lab confirms


HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Department of Health State Laboratories Division (SLD) has detected a new variant.

The strain, which has the technical name B.1.351 and is sometimes referred to as the South African variant, was found in an Oahu resident with no travel history. 

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“This is concerning because B.1.351 has a mutation that makes it more transmissible from one person to another and a separate mutation that might make it less responsive to the antibodies we form when we have COVID or get vaccinated,” said SLD Director Dr. Edward Desmond. 

The state’s lab division says the mutation that increases transmissibility is called N501Y, while the mutation that is believed to possibly reduce effectiveness of antibodies is called E484K. 

The N501Y and E484K mutations had previously been seen in Hawaii, but, according to the health officials, this is the first time both mutations have been found together in one virus. 

“While theoretical concerns have been raised about whether vaccination will be effective against new variant strains, the real-world data so far are reassuring” said Acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble. “A study in South Africa showed the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was effective in preventing serious disease requiring hospitalization and in preventing death even where B.1.351 was the predominant strain.” 

As of March 8, eight new cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, also known as the U.K. variant, have been detected in the state. The most recent cases of B.1.1.7 involve two Oahu residents, one who traveled to the mainland and a household contact of that individual.

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