As B.1.1.7 Variant Becomes Dominant In Arizona, Younger People Are At Risk

By Katherine Davis-Young, Jill Ryan
Published: Wednesday, April 21, 2021 - 2:48pm
Updated: Thursday, April 22, 2021 - 8:36am

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Arizona’s daily COVID-19 case counts are still low compared to the state's winter peak. But a more transmissible strain continues to spread in Arizona and younger people may now be more at risk.

Dr. Josh LaBaer with ASU’s Biodesign Institute told reporters Wednesday that the percentage of Arizona infections caused by the B.1.1.7 variant, first spotted in the U.K., is increasing exponentially. He said it is now the dominant strain in Arizona, appearing in 60-80% of recent samples tested by his lab.

Joshua LaBaer
Arizona State University
Joshua LaBaer


“The two things that are probably most important to remember about that U.K. variant, one is that it’s much more transmissible, the other is that it does affect younger people, we’re seeing that now reflected. A lot more younger people are getting ill," LaBaer said. 

p>Nationwide, 18- to 24-year-olds continue to see the highest rate of infection per capita, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And for the first time since the pandemic began, the rate of infections among 6- to 13-year-olds has surpassed the rate for those 65 and older. The shift is due, in part, to the fact that older Americans have been vaccinated in higher numbers than other populations, LaBaer said. 

Gov. Doug Ducey recently lifted mask requirements for Arizona schools, but LaBaer said since no vaccines have been approved yet for children, the potential for virus transmission in classrooms remains.

Arizona Confirmed COVID-19 Cases By Age Group

“That’s not a setting where you want to go without masks at this point," LaBaer said. "Kids, at this point are not vaccinated at all, and certainly a lot of adults who are eligible to be vaccinated are not yet vaccinated."

LaBaer said all of the vaccines available in the U.S. offer protection against the B.1.1.7 variant, but said with only about 38% of Arizona's population immunized, many more vaccinations are needed to contain the spread of the highly infectious virus strain. 

"The best thing we can do is get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible," LaBaer said. 

As the COVID-19 vaccine supply increases and appointments become more readily available, Will Humble, the executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, says there needs to be a change in strategy.

“We need to shift our state policies away from these big mass vaccination sites and towards the small community-based events, and especially places that don’t require an appointment," Humble said.

Humble says a switch to community health centers and pharmacies will be key to getting to herd immunity. 

He says the focus should not be on people that are hesitant to get the vaccine, but instead on those that are waiting for vaccines to become more convenient.

→ Q&AZ: What You Need To Know About Getting The Coronavirus Vaccine In Arizona

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