Will COVID Vaccines Work Against the Variants?
COVID variants are in the news and causing people to worry about their safety and whether vaccines will protect us.
David Basel, MD, Vice President of Avera Medical Group Quality, answers commonly asked questions:
Are the current COVID vaccines effective against the variants?
Yes, COVID vaccines are showing good effectiveness in preventing serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID variants. Variants require a higher number of antibodies produced by our immune systems to fight it off. The COVID vaccine produces antibodies in higher concentrations than any natural immunity we might have by being exposed to COVID in the past. So the vaccine offers you greater protection. Vaccines are slightly less effective against the variants, but they’re still effective. If you do get COVID after you’ve been vaccinated, it would likely be a much milder case – like the common cold – rather than a severe illness.
Vaccines teach your body how to develop antibodies so that your immune system can protect you when you are exposed, even to new variants. So it’s important to be vaccinated as soon as you have the chance – especially in light of the new variants.
Are variants present in our area of the country?
Yes, the variants are definitely here. The UK variant is becoming a more sizable percentage of our cases. We have also seen the California and New York variants within our footprint. The variants are taking hold and that may be one reason we are seeing case numbers and hospitalizations climb again. Also people are letting their guard down a bit, thinking we’ve won the game when actually we’re still in the midst of a pandemic.
Why are these variants appearing?
It’s natural and expected for viruses to mutate or genetically change. For example, influenza has been mutating for decades. That’s why there’s a new flu vaccine that’s developed each year for influenza.
Are the variants more dangerous?
In some respects, for example, the UK variant possibly spreads faster because it can get into the cell more easily, with possibly more severe infection.
What’s your bottom line advice in the face of COVID variants?
Get the COVID vaccine as soon as you can, as it now is offered in many convenient locations. Approved vaccines are safe and effective. Vaccination is making a difference – in our area and across the nation. We want to get ahead of the variants and that means getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible. Schedule a COVID-19 vaccine now in numerous locations. Also, continue to wear a mask and social distance, especially in public settings or large gatherings among people who may not be vaccinated.