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Ohio State Scientists Uncover New COVID-19 Variant In Columbus

Ohio State employees wait for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Columbus. [Jay LaPreten / AP]
Ohio State employees wait for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Ohio State Wexner Medical Center doctors have identified new strains of COVID-19 in Ohio, one with a mutation identical to the version of the virus spreading rapidly through the United Kingdom. 

The coronavirus mutation that mirrors the U.K. variant has been found in just one person in Columbus, but researchers believe it developed independently from a virus already present in the United States. The team also found a different variant with a handful of mutations that has become the dominant virus in the Columbus area since late December.

Peter Mohler, who co-authored the study and serves as Ohio State's chief scientific officer, warned against over-reaction Wedensday. In a press release, he said scientists are still working to “understand the impact of mutations on transmission of the virus, the prevalence of the strain in the population and whether it has a more significant impact on human health.”

There is no indication either strain is resistant to current vaccines, Mohler said.

Researchers say the discovery of the new variant in Columbus underscores how commonly viruses mutate and suggests similar changes could be happening independently around the world.

Ohio State has been sequencing virus samples since March of 2020 to track changes in COVID-19 over time. Mutations in viruses are normal and natural, said Dr. Dan Jones, vice chair of molecular pathology.

“But the changes seen in the last two months have been more prominent than in the first months of the pandemic," Jones said.

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