Deadly outbreak Flemish care center puts Colombian variant in spotlight

Seven fully vaccinated residents of a residential care center in Flanders died after a corona outbreak. The people over 80 and 90 were infected with the B.1.621 variant. This so-called Colombian variant of the coronavirus, according to agencies and experts, is not the same cause for serious concerns โ€” but one to keep an eye on.

The virus mutation first appeared in Colombia in January. There he is responsible for about 95 percent of the infections detected. The variant has barely been found in the Netherlands. 43 infections have been discovered in the laboratory, RIVM writes. These were all cases identified in June or earlier this year.

Florida and Spain

โ€œThis variant is slowly spreading from Colombia around the world,โ€ says Flemish virologist Marc Van Ranst. Outside South America, the US and Spain are the main places where B.1.621 has been identified.

According to US media, the variant accounted for 2.1 percent of infections in mid-July. In Florida, that rate is much higher, at about 10 percent, because there is a lot of air traffic from Latin America to Miami and vice versa.

Van Ranst estimates that the variant in Spain accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of all new infections. โ€œBelgium is small numbersโ€; several tens, the virologist explains. All the more striking is the fatal outbreak at the Ter Burg residential care center in the municipality of Zaventem near Brussels.

Had two pricks

Presumably, the virus has entered the department for patients with advanced dementia through a visitor. The first infection was detected in mid-July. More than twenty residents and staff have now tested positive. Seven out of 28 residents died even though they were all double vaccinated with the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine.

โ€œI think there are two possibilities,โ€ says Van Ranst. โ€œFor example, this variant protects the vaccine less well.โ€ The second option refers to the fact that residents were vaccinated about six months ago. For this vulnerable group, the effect of the vaccine decreases faster, according to the Flemish virologist. โ€œWe also see that with a flu shot: it will last half a year in the elderly.โ€ Still, Van Ranst stresses that it is too early for hard conclusions.

Post-vaccination contamination

In any case, the current vaccines do not offer 100 percent protection against covid-19, it is statistically inevitable that a small proportion of fully vaccinated people still get infected and develop symptoms. However, vaccination is much less likely to do so than without vaccination.


older a person is and the weaker his immune system, the greater the chance of illness after infection. Especially with the more contagious delta variant. But to what extent this may apply to the Colombian variant is still unclear.

โ€œNo evidence of extra contagiousnessโ€

Public Health England recently reported that no evidence has been found that the Colombian variant is more contagious than the now dominant delta variant. However, the preliminary dates suggest that the current vaccines may be less effective against B.1.621. However, since only 37 infections have been detected in England, the study of this variant is still in its infancy in the UK.

โ€œIt may also be that the Colombian variant never really gets a foothold, just like the P1 variant from Brazil,โ€ says field epidemiologist Amrish Baidjoe. Because of all hundreds of viruses surfaced, only a few have become dominant. Like now the delta variant (first found in India) and before that the alpha variant (first surfaced in the UK).

Deltavariant biggest concern

Research will have to show how dangerous B.1.621 is. Baidjoe: โ€œThe more contagious delta variant remains clearly the biggest concern now. But if you look at what happened in the Flemish nursing home, it‘s good to keep an eye on this variant.โ€

So that’s what happens. The World Health Organization has listed the variant as worrying enough to monitor. This is a step under Variant of Concern (VOC) or Variant of Interest (VOI), because its potential impact is still too unclear. That also explains why the Colombian mutation has not yet been named after a letter from the Greek alphabet. This only happens with a VOC or VOI.

The ECDC, the European RIVM, has the Colombian variant slightly more emphasis on the radar. Van Ranst: โ€œThere is no need to panic, but there are concerns. Because the delta variant also started in a few cases and a few weeks later it accounted for more than 96 percent of all infections.โ€