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Health officials confirm first case of COVID-19 Brazilian variant in Utah

(Workers take down information from residents as they receive COVID-19 tests at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – State health officials are confirming Utah has its first case of the Brazilian variant of COVID-19.  However, they say this doesn’t change their vaccination plans or their public-safety recommendations.

According to the latest data from the CDC, Utah is one of 18 states to have a confirmed case of the P1 or Brazilian variant of COVID-19.  Prior to this, health officials have found 85 cases of the UK variant, but no Utahns have been infected by the strain first identified in South Africa — yet.

Analysts in Utah have been tracking these variants for months.  The variant was found in Salt Lake County. Workers are not sure how it arrived.  The variant’s arrival was no shock to health officials.

“It’s not a surprise to us to find these variants in our state,” says UDOH spokesman Tom Hudachko.  “We know they’re circulating around the globe, and they’re circulating in other states around the country.”

There is some bad news when it comes to the Brazilian variant. Hudachko said it appears to be more infectious than the original strain.

He also said, “We also believe there is potential to cause more severe illness in younger people.”

The good news, according to Hudachko, is that the same measures used to slow the spread of the original COVID-19 also work to slow the variants.  He said that’s why people will need to continue to wear masks and keep their distance until health experts feel those precautions are no longer necessary.

Do the current vaccines work on the variants?  Yes … somewhat.

For example, Pfizer claims their vaccines are 97 percent effective in “preventing symptomatic disease” for the original coronavirus.  But the CDC reportedly doesn’t exactly know the efficiency rate of the vaccines against the variants.

“They don’t go anywhere near anything that specific at all,” says Salt Lake County Public Health Nurse Jason Lowry.

But just because the vaccines aren’t as effective against variants, Lowry says that doesn’t mean they’re ineffective.

“Variants like the P1 are not neutralized as well by the antibodies, but that doesn’t mean they’re not neutralized, at all,” he says.

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