Variants and Vaccines

By: Kamron A. Sanders

As we began to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, news broke that the coronavirus mutated into new variants. While virus mutations are common, as explained by Johns Hopkins, it is an unwelcomed challenge during a spiraling pandemic.

The original strain, SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that caused COVID-19, mutated into the variants B.1.1.7 (U.K. strain), B.1.351 (South Africa strain), and P.1 (Brazil strain).

For good reason, public health officials have grown increasingly concerned about the aggressive, more contagious strains. As of today (February 8), the new strains are present in 38 states and account for about 700 cases in the U.S.– with the highest numbers in California and Florida.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is actively tracking confirmed cases of the new variants. An interactive map can be found on their website and provides detailed information including the type of strain and state recorded numbers. According to the CDC, the map is updated on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.

Are the current vaccines still effective?

There is evidence that current vaccines may be less effective on some of the new variants, but it is too early to tell. Stuart Ray, M.D. of Johns Hopkins explains, “whether that means people who have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine could get sick with the new variants is not yet known… the immune response involves many components…”

The good news is, there is a vaccine and changes can be made as public health officials monitor responses to the vaccine. Robert Bollinger, M.D., M.P.H. of Johns Hopkins explains, “if there would ever be a major mutation, the vaccine development process can accommodate changes…”

Science and technology have improved vaccine availability but there is no magic solution – yet. The key component in limiting the spread of the virus starts with human behavior. We must continue to wear masks, social distance and follow all CDC guidelines to protect ourselves and others.

For more information on national and local coronavirus information, please refer to the CDC COVID Data Tracker.