COVID-19 Variants vs. Vaccines

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When it comes to new COVID-19 variants,  many are asking “How concerned should I be?” and “How protected might I be against them once I get vaccinated?”

Well, there answer may not be completely black and white, as the Center for Disease Control is still learning more about the vaccines each day but early studies show that the vaccines may be effective against some variants but not necessarily all.  The best way to prevent variants from spreading is to continue to take precautions, even after being fully vaccinated.

The State of Coronavirus

While infections are down significantly from where they were during the great surge in early January, the United States is not out of the woods yet. The average number of new daily cases is on par with the numbers we saw during the summer peak in mid-July.

In Illinois, the state positivity rate as of February 26 was 2.5 percent, which puts it among the lowest positivity rates in the country.  According to Dr. Jonathan Pinsky, head of Edward Hospital‘s Infectious Disease department, the number of people hospitalized with more severe cases of coronavirus is down significantly compared to this time last year, which is welcome news.  However, he encourages everyone to keep up with mitigation efforts – wearing masks in public and social distancing – until enough of the general population can be vaccinated.  As of March 11, about 10% of DuPage County residents have been fully vaccinated.

The Most Common of COVID-19 Variants

In the United States, the most common strain is the E614G variant.  It is in more than 94% of all coronavirus cases.  However, in England a new B117 strain is dominating the number of infections there.  It has increased transmission over the E614G, meaning it spreads more easily and could become the dominant strain in the U.S.  The good news according to Dr. Pinsky, is that the Maderna and Pfizer vaccinations appear to work just as effectively on these two variants.

Will the rate of vaccination beat the rate at which the virus is mutating and variants are circulating?

These COVID-19 variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. An increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths.

So far, studies suggest that antibodies generated through vaccination with currently authorized vaccines recognize these variants. This is being closely investigated and more studies are underway.

How can we help stop the spread while we wait for vaccinations to increase?

Despite low infection rates and more things opening up, we need to continue mitigation measures such as handwashing, mask wearing and avoiding crowds/close contact with people outside your household.  The CDC is recommending that people do not travel over spring break.

Get a covid vaccine as soon as it’s available to you. Any of the approved vaccines will provide excellent protection against the COVID-19 virus.

Should people wear two masks at a time?

According to findings from a CDC study, wearing a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask helps improve the fit of the surgical mask. The closer-fitting the mask is your face, the fewer gaps there are between the mask and your face where respiratory droplets carrying the coronavirus can enter. The study found that, “The receiver’s exposure was maximally reduced (>95%) when the source and receiver were fitted with modified medical procedure masks. These laboratory-based experiments highlight the importance of good fit to optimize mask performance.”