UVA doctor explains whether COVID-19 variants are threatening progress during the pandemic

COVID-19 vaccine
Posted at 5:13 PM, Apr 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-07 17:14:01-04

NORFOLK, Va. - News 3 is taking action for your health.

Dr. Anthony Fauci fears the U.S. is on the brink of another major surge of COVID-19 cases as the U.K. variant of the virus has been identified in all 50 states.

Infectious disease experts from the University of Virginia say there's a specific group of people who can change course.

News 3 This Morning anchor Jessica Larché asked Dr. William Petri from UVA whether we’re setting ourselves up for a scenario where things could be like they were at the beginning of the pandemic a year ago and exactly how much we should be concerned about these variants?

“I think we should be concerned enough to encourage everyone we know to get vaccinated, because we really want to have everyone who's 16 years of age and older vaccinated, because that's going to limit the ability of the virus to produce new variants. Because when you have like millions of people infected around the world, that's that many more opportunities for the virus to develop new variants that are more transmissible,” Dr. Petri said.

Dr. Petri added that once a high percentage of the population is vaccinated and immune, that will give a selective advantage to a virus that can evade immune vaccine-induced immunity.

The good news? That hasn’t happened here yet. So, Dr. Petri says the three vaccines that are being used in the U.S. – Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – are active against the variants from South Africa, Brazil and the U.K., as well as the California variant.

Currently, two-thirds of people over the age of 65 have been vaccinated, which he said was “wonderful news” since the people who are at the greatest risk of dying from the virus are being protected.

“And, you know, if we can like vaccinate people from 16 to 40 years of age, that'll be huge as far as transmission. Because right now, two-thirds of transmission is from that 16- to 40-year-old age group. And so, if they can get vaccinated, even though they themselves are not at great risk of dying from COVID-19, their being vaccinated will have a huge impact on everybody else's health,” Dr. Petri said.

Starting Wednesday in North Carolina, everyone over the age of 16 can get a vaccine. A number of local health districts in Hampton Roads have already expanded to Phase 1c and Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout, and all Virginians will be eligible to get a shot on April 18.

Click here for our full COVID vaccination guide.