— The Department of Health Services and its lab partners have confirmed a third coronavirus variant strain in Wisconsin.

This variant, referred to as P.1, differs from variants B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, which have both previously been confirmed in Wisconsin. P.1 was first discovered in four travelers from Brazil who were tested at an airport near Tokyo in early January.

Researchers have found that this new strain spreads more rapidly and easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease. P.1 also has unique mutations that may affect the ability of antibodies, from previous COVID-19 infection or vaccination, to recognize and fight off the virus.

“Because these new variants of concern may spread more easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, it is important to get vaccinated when you are able,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the state’s chief medical officer. “Vaccines, along with our other public health practices, give the virus less of an opportunity to spread and mutate.”

To date, 78 cases of variant B.1.1.7 and two cases of variant B.1.351 have been confirmed in Wisconsin, in addition to one case of variant P.1.

— As Wisconsin continues vaccinating at a high rate, a panel of vaccine experts critiqued the equity of distribution and predicted vaccine reluctance ahead.

Wisconsin has surged from one of the worst vaccination rates in the country to one of the best in the country. UW-Madison experts attribute the gain to the use of mathematical models informing decision-makers where the doses of vaccines should go when they are delivered to the state.

“A major factor in how to improve the efficiency was to build models that looked to allocation, logistics and built real models that showed us how to generate appropriate allocation and distribution across the state,” said WID Data Science Hub Director Michael Ferris, speaking at a recent “Crossroads of Ideas” event, a virtual lecture series presented by The Cap Times, Morgridge Institute for Research, WARF and Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.

These models have been used over the past 10-15 weeks to get vaccine doses into the right communities at the right times, Ferris said. Models have been designed to promote fairness in how the vaccines are distributed to underserved communities.

But School of Medicine and Public Health Associate Dean Dr. Jonathan Temte said more needs to be done to ensure the fairness of the vaccine rollout. Temte serves on the vaccine panel of the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee, which advises the state on how to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine.

“A couple days ago in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report [by the CDC] it indicated that the vaccine, since it started flowing, has flown inequitably toward higher socioeconomic groups,” Temte said. “So we are maintaining this disparity despite all our efforts to try and circumvent that.”

Infectious disease Prof. Dr. Nasia Safdar said it’s important that Wisconsin get as many doses into arms as it can and that people don’t lie about their health to get to the front of the line. Safdar said people need to let the most vulnerable populations get their dose first.

“I think we wouldn’t have to make these decisions if supply was adequate,” she said. “Trying to undercut that supply by calling and making an appointment when you are not in the group that is the highest risk for complications doesn’t seem like the best citizen-type thing to do.”