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A new coronavirus variant discovered in the United Kingdom is now making its rounds in the U.S., with the B.1.1.7 variant most recently identified in New York in a man who has no recent travel history.
The variant is said to be more transmissible than COVID-19 — though as of now, it’s not thought to be more virulent or resistant to vaccines and treatment. That said, a new study suggests who may be most at risk for contracting B.1.1.7: Those under 20 years of age.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at Imperial College London and others and has not yet been peer-reviewed, found that those under 20 years of age are more likely to make up a higher percentage of B.1.1.7 cases — or what is identified in the study as the “Variant of Concern” or VOC.
Available data indicates “a shift in the age composition of reported cases, with a larger share of under 20-year-olds among reported VOC than non-VOC cases,” per the study.
However, the researchers said that it’s too soon to determine the “mechanism behind this change,” noting that it could have been influenced, in part, by “the variants spread coinciding with a period where lockdown was in force but schools were open.”
“Further research is ongoing on the specific nature of any changes in how the virus affects this age group,” noted a press release on the findings.
Unlike COVID-19, the B.1.1.7 may be more likely to infect children, suggests the study, which echoes concerns expressed by Professor Neil Ferguson, a scientist at Imperial College London and a study author, in December.
At the time, Ferguson warned that early analysis “hints that it has a higher propensity to infect children.”
“If it were true, then this might explain a significant proportion, maybe even the majority, of the transmission increase seen,” he added, per the BBC.
The Imperial College London study also estimated the reproduction number (R0) of the new variant to be between 1.4 and 1.8.
“These analyses, which have informed UK government planning in recent weeks, show that the new variant of concern, B.1.1.7, has substantially higher transmissibility than previous SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating in the U.K.,” said Ferguson in a statement. “This will make control more difficult and further accentuates the urgency of rolling out vaccination as quickly as possible.”
“All viruses evolve, and very rarely a virus will change in a way that requires us to re-evaluate public health policy,” added Dr. Erik Volz, a scientist at Imperial College London and one of the study authors, in a statement. “We find overwhelming evidence of a change in transmissibility of the B.1.1.7 variant that should be taken into account when planning our COVID-19 response in the new year.”
Fox News’ Kayla Rivas contributed to this report.
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