By Dr. Max Gomez

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — As the vaccine continues to roll out, with bumps, across the country, another COVID-19 issue is also spreading.

Researchers have found an increasing number of coronavirus variants here that are different from the ones found in the United Kingdom and South Africa, CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported Monday.

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COVID VACCINE

Virus and public health experts are not at all surprised that the coronavirus is changing. Viruses mutate. That’s what they do. The concern is when different variants have increased infectiousness, cause more severe disease and, most concerning, possibly have the ability to evade present vaccines.

And the longer and more widespread a virus is, globally in the case of the COVID virus, the greater the opportunity to mutate. That’s what appears to have happened in the UK, South Africa and now the U.S.

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In a not-yet-peer-reviewed posted study researchers have detected at least seven home-grown variants in states across the country, and even though they all have the same single genetic letter mutation, they appear to have evolved independently of each other. This suggests that the different virus strains are converging towards a variant that may be more advantageous for its long-term survival in its human hosts.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

The new mutation appears in a gene that codes for the spike protein that allows the virus to enter a human cell, but it is still unclear whether this actually makes the variants more contagious or more resistant to the current vaccines.

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And even though the variants have been found in several states around the country, we don’t yet know the real extent of the threat mostly because compared to other countries, the U.S. does relatively little genomic analysis of the coronavirus. Experts say we need a national surveillance strategy if we are to stay ahead of the ever-changing virus.

Dr. Max Gomez