“What we are dealing with now, with these variants… it’s not the same virus as we were dealing with at the beginning of the pandemic,” Dr. Jessica Minion, a medical microbiologist with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, told her fellow doctors.
During a physician town hall last Thursday, and posted online Friday, Minion explained scientists spotted two sublineages of the Delta variant in Western Canada, called AY.25 and AY.27, respectively.
“We kind of warned people that uncontrolled spread is going to lead to evolution of the virus. (If) you give it enough opportunities to pass through enough people you’re going to get something unique to Western Canada,” she stated.
She said the number of clades (small distinct groups of the virus) had “exploded in number,” from a dozen in early October to more than 100 about a month later.
The “AY” designation doesn’t mean the sublineage is completely distinct from the delta variant, she said, only that they are noticeably different.
She told the other doctors scientists evaluate the sublineages’ “replicative advantage,” a measure of how well the new type can create more copies of itself.
The more a virus circulates the more chances it has to change. New mutations can offer new advantages and even launch new variants.
She said the two sublineages have only a slight advantage over the common delta variant strain.
But even if these mutations don’t pose a new threat, she said, others could.
“What we are all worried and looking for is immune escape — is there going to be, in all of these opportunities for the virus to mutate in our population, especially in partially vaccinated populations, is it going to mutate to avoid and evade our immune responses?”
“There is no evidence of this, at this point.”
Saskatchewan Chief Medical Officer Dr. Susan Shaw, who also works in the ICU and treats COVID-19 patients, said she hoped no new strains emerge.
“I hope there’s not a Western Canadian or Saskatchewan-Alberta variant coming, because that’s not what I want to be known for,” she said.
“We’re already known for losing COVID.”
Nazeem Muhajarine, a University of Saskatchewan epidemiologist, told Global News the Western Canadian sublineages are a symptom of how bad the pandemic has been in Saskatchewan and Alberta, when the virus was rampant, and not an omen of what’s to come.
“This calls for us to monitor and to keep an eye on (how the virus is changing) rather than actually needing to do anything special, anything different than what we are already doing,” he said.
He said vaccinations and public health restrictions will stop the spread, which also stops the virus from changing and potentially becoming more dangerous.
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