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Clouded 'Crystal Ball'

New SARS-CoV-2 variants are making it harder for researchers to model the course of the pandemic, NBC News reports.

Last month, the UK announced that it had identified a new SARS-CoV-2 strain, dubbed B.1.1.7, that researchers then found could be more easily transmitted. Other strains have also been identified in South Africa, Brazil, and California. NBC News notes that the emergence of new viral strains is to be expected, but more data is needed on how they might affect the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and the effectiveness of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. It adds that initial studies have suggested current vaccines may be less effective against some new variants, but that more work is ongoing.

"There's so much up in the air, and the new variants have thrown a huge monkey wrench into our ability to model things," Jeanne Marrazzo from the University of Alabama at Birmingham tells NBC News. "All of those things make the crystal ball very cloudy."

Alessandro Vespignani from Northeastern University's Network Science Institute adds there that with the emergence of new variants, it remains important to take steps to slow the virus's spread and boost vaccination rates.