The first cases of a more contagious coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa have been found in the United States, the South Carolina health department said Thursday.
Officials reported two cases in South Carolina of the variant known as B.1.351.
Health experts say this variant is particularly concerning given that in addition to being more contagious, early studies have shown some reduction in the antibody response from vaccines to the variant.
Still, both Pfizer and Moderna say studies indicate their vaccines are still effective against the variant, despite some drop-off in the antibody response.
The state health department said there is no connection between the two cases in South Carolina and no known travel history at the moment, an indication that more cases could soon be found.
Another variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, has already been found in many U.S. states.
Anthony FauciAnthony FauciSunday shows preview: US reaffirms support for Ukraine amid threat of Russian invasion A newspaper crosses an uncrossable line to 'punish' a class of Americans Bill Maher pushes back on Fauci: 'Don't sit there in your white coat and tell me "just do what we say"' MORE said earlier Thursday on MSNBC that the South African variant is of "greater concern" and "really could be problematic."
There is not evidence yet that the South African variant causes more severe illness, though.
New cases in the U.S. have been declining recently, while still at extremely high levels, but these variants threaten to cause another spike.
Experts say it is crucial for people to get vaccinated as quickly as possible, to cut down on the chances for the virus to continue spreading and mutating.
It is also crucial to double down on the same precautions, such as mask-wearing, avoiding indoor gatherings, and maintaining distance from others to fight the new variants, experts say.
“We know that viruses mutate to live and live to mutate,” said Brannon Traxler, South Carolina's interim public health director. “That’s why it’s critical that we all continue to do our part by taking small actions that make a big difference. These include wearing our masks, staying at least six feet apart from others, avoiding large crowds, washing our hands, getting tested often, and when we can, getting vaccinated.
"These are the best tools for preventing the spread of the virus, no matter the strain," Traxler said.