New Jersey hospitals remain on high alert for a mutated form of the COVID-19 virus that led to sweeping new lockdowns in the U.K.

To date, the mutated strain (officially known as B.1.1.7) has not been detected in New Jersey but health officials believe it is only a matter of time.

First detected by British scientists, the mutation can be more easily transmitted, but is not believed to cause more severe symptoms. As it raced through the U.K., the British government ordered strict new lockdowns. The COVID variant has been detected in New York, California, Colorado and Florida. N.J. Health Department spokeswoman Donna Leusner told the Asbury Park Press they had received no reports of the mutant strain at this time.

Hospitalizations remain relatively stable in New Jersey, with the state reporting 3,633 beds occupied with infected patients. That is less than half the number hospitalized during the initial wave of infections in the spring.

The biggest concern with the mutated strain is the potential of overwhelming hospital capacity. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned last week the spread of the new strain "could lead to more cases and put even more strain on our already heavily burdened health-care systems.”

CDC Incident Manager Henry Walke said the arrival of this mutant strain was expected but reaffirmed their belief it does not cause more severe sickness, CNBC reported. He also noted the individual infected in Colorado had no travel history, which suggests the strain is already being transmitted "person-to-person."

Will the vaccine protect against mutant strains?

Unclear. The CDC asserted current vaccines would offer protection against new COVID variants. They also believe that immunity achieved after recovering from infection would also protect against new strains. However, the CDC admitted they had no hard data to back up those claims and said their belief was based on experience with similar previous mutations.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock was much less confident. During an interview with BBC Radio, Hancock expressed concern about the U.K. mutation and a second mutated virus with origins in South Africa.

Adding to the uncertainty about the effectiveness of vaccines on mutated strains was a comment from Professor John Bell. He is the Oxford University immunologist who helped develop their vaccine and said this week there was a "big question mark" over whether current vaccines would be effective against mutant strains.

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