TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Researchers have found a new COVID variant that started right here in Arizona. What they found in the data is concerning, and all the more reason why doctors say getting to herd immunity in Arizona is so important.

The ASU Biodesign Institute found the new COVID variant stemming from cases in Arizona.

"It was a unique variant. Is that the best news for us? No," said emergency medicine doctor Frank Lovecchio. "It turns out this variant does not work as well against the vaccines and against the other therapies that we have."

Dr. Lovecchio said that part makes this even more difficult as it starts to become more widespread.

According to the study by the ASU researchers, there have been 17 cases detected: 15 in Arizona, one in Texas, and another in New Mexico. In Arizona alone, the cases were discovered between February 1 and March 2. Dr. Shad Marvasti with the University of Arizona College of Medicine said the timing isn't shocking -- right after the major winter surge of cases.

"Unfortunately, I have to say I'm not surprised because a lot of our policy decisions have made us a breeding ground for COVID-19 here in Arizona," said Dr. Marvasti. "They also commented on the fact that we really don't know how widespread this is, so it could be much worse than we're seeing right now."

Another reason it could already be much higher in numbers: most COVID tests in Arizona don't show what kind of variant somebody has.

"When you look for SARS COVID-19, it's a yes/no test. Yes, you have it; no, you don't. You have to take an extra step to look for the variants," said Dr. Lovecchio.

But with the researchers writing in the study, this variant is "poised to emerge," and it's something doctors are taking very seriously. Even though this variant shows resistance to the vaccine, doctors said the more people who get the vaccine, the better off we are. Once more people are protected, the virus spread is much lower, and then it can't live to keep mutating.


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