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Moncef Slaoui, chief science adviser for Operation Warp Speed. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Researchers are closely watching whether a newly discovered mutation in the SARS-CoV-2 virus is cause for alarm as parts of Europe limited international travel this week.

Why it matters: Despite the variant appearing to be more transmissible, U.S. officials stressed in a call today that it's no more deadly and the chances it will make vaccines less effective are "extremely low."

  • The vaccine uses an immune response against several antigen molecules like antibodies, B cells or T cells around the protein, which in return would not likely be disrupted by these mutations, Moncef Slaoui, chief science adviser for Operation Warp Speed, said on Monday.
  • "The chances that one set of mutations would alter all those are I think extremely low."

The state of play: Modeling shows the new strain, which scientists are calling B.1.1.7, could be about 70% more transmissible, but that has not yet been confirmed from lab reports, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Sunday.

  • Still, the new strain has sparked new lockdown measures from Johnson along with the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Hong Kong and Italy temporarily pausing flights or freights from the UK.

What they're saying: U.S. officials are in close contact with scientists in the UK, and are taking the next few weeks to isolate and cultivate the virus to better understand its transmission.

  • "Up to now, I don’t think there has been a single variant that would be resistant. This particular variant in the UK, I think, is very unlikely to have escaped the vaccine immunity," he said.

Background: The new strain was detected in September and has started to spread to other parts of Europe and South Africa, according to the European Centers for Disease and Control.

  • Researchers have constantly watched SARS-CoV-2 evolve in real time, Science reports, and were surprised when they noticed 17 mutations occur seemingly at once.

Go deeper

Updated 23 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus variant surveillance varies widely by state — Omicron cases confirmed in 5 U.S. states America probably won't lead the effort to understand Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Moderna loses patent battles tied to COVID vaccine — Pfizer could have vaccine data for children under five by end of 2021, CEO says.
  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate — Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come.
  4. World: WHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron — COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming — Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

AT&T mandates COVID vaccination for most unionized workers

Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

AT&T expanded its COVID-19 vaccine mandate Wednesday to employees who are members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union.

Why it matters: The communications giant is one of the biggest employers in the U.S. to require frontline workers to be vaccinated against the virus. The union said it represents some 90,000 AT&T workers, per AP.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.