The rise of COVID-19 variants may impact our strategy to end the pandemic

As the coronavirus continues to mutate and change, should our strategy to end the pandemic change as well?

Florida was the beginning of a dangerous and deadly trend in the United States.

Dr. Micheal Teng works in Molecular Medicine at University of South Florida Health. “We were the first state to have B.1.1.7 as the dominant strain,” said Dr. Teng.

And what happened here, has spread. Now, The B.1.1.7 Variant also known as the UK Variant is the dominant strain nationally.

Dr. Teng says that’s a problem, but not a problem we can’t handle.

“It’s pretty clear now from the data that it does cause more disease and is more transmissible,” he said.

Dr. Nicole Iovine is an Infectious Disease Specialist with the University of Florida. “The good news is that it seems that the vaccines do work and do provide protective immunity against them,” said Dr. Iovine.

We might not always be so lucky.

Dr. Rachael Piltch-Loeb is a Preparedness Fellow at the Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health. “What we want to do is get as many people who are able to be vaccinated as quickly as possible, so that we reduce the likelihood that we come in contact with a variant that the vaccine doesn’t work for,” said Dr. Piltch-Loeb.

UF Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Iovine says now we are in a race to see which will spread more quickly – vaccines or variants. “The more we can vaccinate people, the less opportunity that the virus has not only to transmit but also to create more mutants in an infected person,” said Dr. Iovine.

“We’re vaccinating at a rate that’s much higher than the transmission rate now. So this is a good thing,” Dr, Teng said.

Right now, we’re pulling ahead.

Currently in Florida, we have almost 3,500 confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, which equates to about one-fifth of all cases here in the U.S. We also have 87 cases of the P.1 variant and 25 cases of the B.1.351 variant.

The rise of variants doesn’t change what you should be doing to slow the spread of coronavirus. Researchers say there hasn’t been a variant that can get around a well-fitting mask.

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Drew Hill
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