COVID-19 variants: Vaccine effectiveness and staying vigilant

Posted at 10:55 PM, Feb 01, 2021

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – COVID-19 continues to lurk across the world, and now the new strains are creeping into the U.S. and have already found their way into Virginia.

Dr. Ryan Light, a News 3 medical expert who practices family medicine with the Tidewater Physicians Multispecialty Group, suspects Virginia could soon see more cases of the new variants.

“It multiplies very rapidly,” Dr. Light said. “We don’t catch the cases right offhand -it’s the asymptomatic spread that we don’t see.”

One week ago, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reported its first case of the variant in northern Virginia.

Now, there could be a possible second case of the COVID-19 strain first found in the U.K. The CDC is reporting a total of two cases of the emerging strain in the Commonwealth.

VDH and the Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) have only confirmed one case of the B.1.1.7 strain so far. DCLS is looking into the discrepancy.

“If there’s one case, that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Light.

The CDC believes the variant first linked to the U.K. is at least 50% more contagious and will become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March.

COVID-19 variants first found in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil are now being reported in 32 states.

To protect oneself from the variants, Dr. Light said people need to remain vigilant and continue following the CDC guidelines.

“We still need to do the social distancing,” he said. “We don’t need let our guards down. Masking is always important, good hand hygiene. We see this strain is spreading much faster in the younger population. Obviously, we don’t hope it doesn’t become more dangerous or deadly."

People may want to double up on cloth masks and are urged to spend less time in grocery stores.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t go to grocery store, but if you’re going to go to the grocery store, make a list,” said Dr. Light. “Prepare your food list for the whole week, so you only go once instead of going every other day or twice a week. The less that you can go and the less contact you have, the better off you’ll be.”

As far as the vaccine’s effectiveness against the new strains, Dr. Danny Avula, who heads the state’s vaccination program, said it’s still too early to know.

“At this point, it appears that the vaccine continues to have good efficacy and protection against it, but it’s brand new, so we’ll just have monitor that moving forward,” Dr. Avula said. “It’s possible down the road the vaccine may have to be tweaked a bit in the same way a flu vaccine is tweaked each year to match the predominant strains.”

Dr. Light agreed. He said people have to trust the science behind the vaccines.

“Follow the science,” he said. “Let’s hold our breaths, hope it works and if it doesn’t, the scientists who made the vaccines as fast as they could will get us a new vaccine for the new strains that are coming out. The more people we get vaccinated, the better off we’ll be.”

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