COVID-19: Scientists believe new batch of variants originated in the U.S.

"Troubling" new variant pop up

JACKSONVILLE. Fla. — Yet another batch of COVID-19 variants are circulating in the U.S. But this time, scientists believe they’re homegrown.

It’s unclear how vaccines will function against these variants, and that is something researchers across the country are looking into. But for now, it’s known that the vaccines are effective in preventing severe illness.

Researchers in New Mexico and Louisiana are drawing attention to seven similar mutations in the coronavirus that are circulating in the U.S.

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Dr. Gregory Poland, who studies the immunogenetics of vaccine response in adults and children at Mayo Clinic, said these variants show they have what he calls an “evolutionary advantage.”

“We have variants that have arisen, not just been transferred here,” said Poland. “When it arises independently — in other words, one in Louisiana, one in California, one in Ohio — that tells us that this isn’t just a random mutation.”

This time, researchers have come up with an easier way to name the variants by naming them after birds.

For example, one variant is called Robin 1, and it’s been detected in 30 states (mostly in the Midwest). Another is called Robin 2 and is mainly being seen in the Southeast, and another called Pelican was first seen in Oregon.

Naming them after birds also removes the “shame and blame” game that may come with using the name of the country that first detected the variant, said Poland.

Jorge Suarez recently got both his shots and he said news of the variants won’t change his behavior.

“I’ve been isolated for a long time now, for nine, 10 months, so I’ve been very careful regardless,” said Suarez.

As researchers continue studying the new batch of variants, Poland said it is critical to keep up with vaccines, wear masks and practice physical distancing.

“We’re not out of the woods yet; we have a long way to go,” he said.