CDC Unsure if Coronavirus Variants Cause Rare Complications in Children

Over the past month or two, scientists who have been genotyping samples of the SARS CoV-2 virus have noticed several important mutations. When viruses replicate, mutations are inevitable. Most of the mutations won't make a difference to the virus or the animal or person it infects. Some of the mutations will be detrimental to the virus, which will cause it to die out. Some mutations will make the virus more transmissible or deadly. These mutations are of utmost concern to scientists who are tracking the pandemic and developing vaccines. As the variants spread around the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is tracking infections. Unfortunately, the CDC doesn't know if any of these new variants are causing some serious, long-lasting complications in children who get infected.

Where the Variants Come From

When a virus replicates inside a person or any other organism, it makes some mistakes in its RNA or DNA. These mistakes can become mutations if they affect an amino acid. In the SARS CoV-2 virus, scientists are concerned about mutations in the spikes that coat the outer surface of the viruses. The spikes are like a key the virus uses to enter human cells and cause an infection. The COVID-19 vaccines are designed to trigger the human immune system to recognize those spikes and make antibodies against them. If the spikes change, the antibodies may not work to prevent an infection. The mutations create variations of the virus. They're occurring all over the world. A few of the well-known variants include the UK strain, called B.1.1.7. Another is the 1.351 strain from South Africa, which is similar to the UK strain. Brazil's P.1 variant is of concern because it appears to be more deadly than the original strain or the other variants that have been detected.

Who Is Getting Infected By the Variants

People all over the world are getting infected by these new COVID-19 strains. In the United States, the South African strain was first reported in two people on January 28. The Brazilian strain was found in a person in Minnesota on January 27. The Minnesotan had traveled to Brazil recently, but the two South Carolina residents reported no travel history. The two South Carolina residents had no known interactions with each other. The UK strain has been found in more than 30 states and in 70 countries around the world. Public health experts expect that the highly transmissible UK strain could become the most common strain in the United States by the end of March 2021.

About the MIS-C Syndrome Affecting Some Children

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome occurs in some children who have been infected by COVID-19. In children, multisystem inflammatory syndrome is a serious complication that can cause significant heart damage. The syndrome typically develops about three weeks after the child is infected by COVID-19. It can occur even in a child whose initial course of illness was mild. Many of the cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome occurred in kids who had no symptoms at all when infected with COVID-19. So far, no adults have been identified with the multisystem inflammatory syndrome. As of December 31, 2020, the CDC received reports of 1,659 cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.

How the COVID-19 Vaccines Work Against the Viral Mutations

Moderna and Pfizer have examined infection rates and vaccine efficacy related to the viral variants. Because some of the variants are new, the companies and public health researchers do not yet have enough data to determine if the vaccines will be equally effective against the variants as they are against the original strain. Data collection and genetic sequencing of viral samples is ongoing. The more samples that are genetically sequenced, the more the vaccine manufacturers will know. For its part, Moderna announced that it is preparing a third dose of its vaccine that will include more protection against the UK and South African variants.

Why More Research on the Variants and MIS-C Syndrome Is Needed

Less than 1% of children who have been infected by COVID-19 have developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome. In order to determine whether or not the variants are more or less likely to cause this complication, the United States needs to do more genetic sequencing. Scientists also need to track new variants as they arise, and the vaccine manufacturers need to study how effective their products are at preventing new infections of those variants.

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