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UNMC lab finds new COVID variants in Nebraska

Not the variants from U.K. or South Africa
Posted at 6:36 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 19:36:46-05

OMAHA, Neb. — The Nebraska Public Health Lab, located on the University of Nebraska Medical Center's campus, has been diligently working on finding and identifying COVID-19 variants.

Researchers say finding mutations is critical to making sure vaccines still work to protect against the virus in years to come. While they have found some mutations, they are not the B.1.1.7. mutation out of the United Kingdom or the other common mutations from South Africa and Brazil. In fact, Nebraska is one of just a few states to still have no mutations recorded from these countries.

The lab is partnering with a startup in California to study whole-genome sequencing.

"Viruses like to mutate and we knew that. We thought it would be a way for us to follow how the virus was spreading within Nebraska," director of the Nebraska Public Health Lab Peter Iwen said.

The variants found by UNMC researchers include mutations that can possibly reduce the ability of the virus to cause severe symptoms.

"If you want to put a name on a mutation as a good mutation, these are actually good because it actually decreased the variants of the virus," Iwen said. "We've had certain groups of people who have developed high viral loads within their bodies, but have no symptoms. They were elderly people and we thought wow that's interesting."

Just like most viruses, COVID-19 is constantly mutating. The research being done by the Nebraska Public Health Lab and UNMC will help scientists adjust vaccines to still offer full protection against the virus in the coming years.