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How many are there? Where are they? Are the vaccines working against them? Are they more deadly? How can they affect when we can beat the pandemic?
To answer those and more questions, we spoke with a physician and consulted the CDC and current information we have from scientists. It is important to note that the COVID-19 variants are a rapidly evolving topic, so we will continue to update this FAQ as new information emerges.
What are the COVID-19 variants and where do they spread?
“COVID-19 variants occur when the original COVID-19 strain mutates. This is a normal process in viruses and usually occurs as a mistake when the virus multiplies in the body,” said Dr. Nicholas L. Pantaleo, internist and general practitioner. physician at Westmed Medical Group in Westchester, NY. “Most mutations do not alter or weaken the virus, but some can make the virus stronger or more contagious,” says Pantaleo.
There are several variants that have emerged around the world, but generally speaking, there are three main variants circulating worldwide that the science and medical community are looking at. These variants are:
B.1.1.7 or the British strain: This species was first found in England and has now spread all over the world, including the United States. According to the CDC, the variant spreads faster and more easily than other variants and could potentially be more dangerous, although more research is needed to confirm that. “The B.1.1.7 variant has a 35% to 75% increase in transmittance over the predominant strain currently circulating,” says Pantaleo. He added that as of March 4, at least 170 cases of this variant were found in New York.
B.1.351 or the South African tribe: This species was first found in South Africa and was found in the US in late January. Clinical studies have shown that the Astrazeneca vaccine is less protective against this species, causing concern among scientists and health leaders. According to The New York Times, preliminary studies by both Pfizer and Moderna show that their vaccines are “less effective” against this species, but still provide some protection.
According to a report in The New York Times, people who have previously been infected with another strain of the virus may not be protected from this strain, which is also a cause for concern for those who have recovered from COVID-19.[This variant] has a 150% increase in transmissibility, and existing vaccines may not provide as much protection against it, “says Pantaleo.” There is growing concern about infections with this strain, even if the individual had previously been infected with another strain, “said Panteleo, adding that at least 2 cases of this variant had been found in New York City as of March 4.
P.1 or Brazil stain: This variant was first found in travelers from Brazil who were tested at a Japanese airport. The cause for concern stems from the suspicion that it may evade antibodies (such as those from previous infections or possibly vaccines). “[The Brazil Variant] is the one we are least familiar with, but preliminary data suggests an increase in portability, ”says Pantaleo. The variant has recently been found in Illinois, as well as Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Minnesota, Florida, Oklahoma and Alaska, according to The New York Times.
Other types: “Mutations have even been found in the United States, including a West Coast variant (B.1.427 / B.1.429 or CAL2.0C),” says Pantaleo. Another New York City variant (B.1.526) is spreading rapidly, accounting for about 27% of New York City cases in mid-February, according to The New York Times. The New York variety can weaken the effectiveness of vaccines. “This variant has mutations in the spike protein that contribute to immune escape from monoclonal antibodies and neutralizing antibodies in COVID-19 restorative plasma,” says Pantaleo.
Do the vaccines work against the variants?
“All three current COVID-19 vaccines available appear to offer some protection against the new strains, especially for worst-case scenarios such as hospitalization and death,” said Pantaleo. “New versions and / or booster vaccines are currently being developed and then tested to better protect against these new mutant strains.”
Think again before you think you can avoid getting the vaccine because you’ve already had COVID-19 and have recovered. “Current COVID-19 vaccines are believed to provide more protection against the new variants than a previous infection,” said Pantaleo.
Because so much information is still known at this point, it’s important to continue to follow the CDC’s safety guidelines, including wearing masks and taking physical distance, even if you’ve had or been vaccinated with COVID-19, until experts say it’s okay to do differently.
Basically, all of the different vaccines currently approved are considered safe by the CDC, FDA, and health authorities. Although the exact efficacy rates differ for each vaccine, the vaccines have generally been shown to protect against more severe cases of COVID-19 and death from infection. As more variants of the virus are expected to emerge (and existing variants spread), it is more important than ever to distribute vaccines quickly and effectively.
Are the variants more contagious or more dangerous?
“While more studies and evaluations are ongoing on these variants, all three seem to spread more easily than the original COVID-19. However, we are still not sure if they are more deadly,” says Pantaleo. The CDC says that because the variants appear more contagious, it could lead to an increase in the number of cases, which could lead to more pressure on the health care system and more deaths.
Some experts are concerned that the variants could “hijack” the progress of the pandemic in the coming months, so it is important to continue to follow safety protocols, especially now.
“Every person still needs to keep wearing masks, socialize and maintain proper hygiene to stay vigilant against all of these stresses. Even if a person has completed a vaccination series, these protocols should continue to help monitor overall infection rates in the United States. lower it. ”says Pantaleo.
How do you protect yourself against variants?
The security measures we have been instructed to follow for the entire pandemic will help protect you from the variants. This includes wearing masks in public or around people outside your household, keeping a physical distance from people who don’t live with you, getting it tested and quarantined if you feel ill or have been exposed and applying proper hand hygiene. In addition, it is important to get vaccinated when a vaccine is available to you, to protect yourself and others, and ultimately to help end the pandemic.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care practitioner if you have any questions about a medical condition or health goals.