Like all of you, we at Sollis are hoping the wider distribution of Covid-19 vaccines begins a return to normalcy. At this point in the pandemic, we are certainly seeing fewer Covid-19 cases. One of the unknown factors that remains—and we know that many of you are concerned about—is the spread of new variants. Public health officials believe we should keep up safety protocols, at least for the time being.
Here are answers to some of the questions we’ve been getting about Covid-19 variants.
What is a variant?
A virus infects someone by entering the host’s cells and replicating there. It’s normal for there to be copying errors in the RNA. We call those mutations. While many of these mutations have no effect or even weaken the virus, other mutations might make the virus more transmittable or cause a more severe illness. If this mutated virus spreads widely among a population, it is called a variant. The longer the virus spreads and the more widely the virus spreads, the more random mutations will occur and the more variants will develop. This is why it is essential to get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible.
How many variants are of concern in the U.S. right now?
Three in particular, all of which first emerged in December 2020: the one first observed in Great Britain; one found in South Africa, and one that emerged in Brazil. There are also seven variants that are believed to have originated in the US.
What are the differences?
The Great Britain variant is more contagious and potentially more life-threatening. A new study has just found it could be 64% more deadly. The South African and Brazil variants are similar mutations and seem to be more resistant to vaccines. Some vaccine makers are working on tweaking their formulas to be more effective against the South African variant. The FDA is preparing a plan to update vaccines in case these variants of the virus start to surge.
How can I keep myself safe?
Continue to reduce your exposure and any possibilities of catching or transmitting the virus by keeping a distance from others outside your household, frequently washing hands and wearing your masks. Experts now recommend double-masking when indoors in public places. Get your vaccine when it’s your turn. Keeping up these measures for the coming months will allow wider immunity in the population and help reduce transmission.
Will I be protected against the three main variants of concern when I get vaccinated?
Most likely. Testing has shown the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are effective against the variant from Great Britain. While they are less effective against the South African and Brazil variants, vaccines can still reduce the chance of very serious illness.
How will these variants affect the pandemic trajectory?
Officials under the Biden administration have made plans to increase genomic sequencing of the virus by tenfold. This will help track variants and their spread. But any estimates and predictions are tricky. Although vaccinations are ramping up, mask mandates and other precautions are being lifted in some parts of the country. We can all do our part in reducing the reach of these variants by continuing safety protocols and getting vaccinated.