DENVER — There is now a new variant of the novel coronavirus. The World Health Organization and public health officials across the US are monitoring the B.1.621 variant, or mu variant.
This latest variant of COVID-19 was first identified in Colombia in January and now is in at least 39 countries, capturing the attention of public health officials.
"We certainly are aware of the mu variant and are keeping a very close eye on it. It is seen here, but it isn’t even close to being dominant," White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Thursday.
The WHO has classified mu as a variant of interest. As of now mu only makes up 0.2% of cases in the United States.
Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection prevention at UCHealth, said there’s an important distinction between a variant of concern and variant of interest.
"So it's not a variant of concern. A variant of concern is delta, where we know it's impacting people, we know it's spreading and we know that it's causing problems," Dr. Barron said.
In a statement, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in part, “Colorado has identified 83 cases of the mu variant since April 2021. These are variants with different characteristics of the original virus, but not yet considered a variant of concern.”
In regard to this variant’s effectiveness against the vaccine, Dr. Barron said there’s still not enough clinical data to come to an answer.
"It does have some mutations that potentially, again, will make the vaccine less effective. But we just still don't really know," Dr. Barron said.
That is mainly because in South America, where the mu variant is spreading at a faster rate, countries haven’t reached high vaccination rates.
"I think we're going to continue to have some of these ups and downs that we've been seeing. Hopefully, the ups and downs are going to get less rollercoaster(-like) and more maybe speed bumps in terms of like the impact of them," Dr. Barron said.
Still, health officials say the best protection people have against COVID-19 and variants is the vaccine, making the conversation around booster shots for people who are immunocompromised even more timely.