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South African COVID-19 variant not immune to vaccines but source of B.C.'s first case remains a mystery

Last Updated Jan 16, 2021 at 11:20 am PDT

A droplet falls from a syringe after a health care worker was injected with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, R.I., Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The discovery of a new COVID-19 strain in BC has mystified those trying to identify the source

But the South African variant is not believed to be immune to various approved vaccines

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Researchers trying to identify the source of British Columbia’s first case of the South African strain of the coronavirus are confident they can keep it from spreading.

The chief medical officer for Vancouver Coastal Health says COVID-19 is not like influenza which requires new vaccines to be developed every year.

Doctor Patricia Daly says the delivery method of immunization used by Pfizer, Moderna and other recently-approved vaccines is less volatile.

“There’s been many, many variants of the virus that have been identified and undergo small changes all the time. The experts tell us these vaccines will be effective against these variants and I think that we could say this for all other variants, so that’s the good news.”

As for how someone from the Lower Mainland — who did not travel or have contact with anyone who did– could end up testing positive for this variant, she says we may never know.

“We do very close case and contact follow-up and that was certainly done in this case as well –not only to identify any contacts but to figure out where a person acquired the virus. For most of the cases reported to us, we are able to identify a source and most of them are actually household contacts.”

Daly says she still wants to know how the South African strain showed up in BC because Canada’s only other case was found in Alberta last week, but the BC Centre for Disease Control is not testing every sample for variant strains.

“We don’t know. There may be other people in the province who have this particular isolate. We don’t know where this particular person acquired their infection. There are about 20-30 per cent of cases where we never identify a source, so it’s not unusual. I think the concern from the general public is how might the virus have entered the province?”

On Thursday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also confirmed one more case of the U.K. variant has been identified in B.C.

That person is someone who also lives in the Vancouver Coastal Health region but recently returned from a trip overseas.

RELATED: B.C. records first case of South African COVID-19 variant 

It’s the fourth case of the U.K. variant.

The other three are all linked to one person who flew home to Vancouver Island from Britain in mid-December.