With a third vaccine just released in the United Kingdom by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, you’d think everyone would be all smiles. Yet a new wave of panic is sweeping across the U.K. and Europe as we speak. What is that all about?
A new Covid variant has been discovered in the U.K. and other parts of Europe. The new variant is known as B.1.1.7 and was first identified in December in the U.K. This prompted a new wave of travel restrictions and widespread lockdowns. The U.K. variant has since been discovered in isolated cases in Colorado, California, Florida, and even China.
The Wall Street Journal reports in South Africa, doctors and researchers are studying another new variant and what role it plays in the rising number of cases there. This variant, known as B.1.351 was actually first discovered in October and hasn’t been detected in the U.S.
All this is great news for the media that loves to spread fear. You know the old saying, “If it bleeds, it leads!” But should we really be worried? What impact, if any, will these new variants have on us and the new vaccines?
What is a viral variant?
New versions of viruses arise as a result of small changes in the viral genetic code. This is an attempt by the virus to remain viable in the face of environmental changes such as the development of vaccines and herd immunity. Those changes that enable the virus to spread more efficiently become more prevalent while other changes disappear. This is expected.
Should we be concerned?
Some doctors worry that these changes will enable the virus to spread more easily and increase the stress on hospitals and nursing homes. Yet preliminary data suggest that the new variants are no more likely to cause severe illness than the more familiar strains. There is some evidence from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to suggest the new variant may be more transmissible than previous variants. This could lead to wider spread of the virus.
Do existing vaccines work against the new variants?
Scientists believe the existing vaccines of Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and AstroZeneca will all be effective against the original and new variant strains of the Covid virus. The mutations “raise some questions about vaccine efficacy, but it’s important to note that the vaccines elicit a broad immune response. . . that targets several areas of the spike protein,” said Dr. Richard Lessells, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, and a member of the team that discovered the South African variant.
Pfizer and Moderna have conducted lab tests of their vaccines against several versions of the coronavirus and found that the vaccines were effective against all, according to the drug makers. The companies said they were conducting experiments to determine whether antibodies generated by people vaccinated were effective against the U.K. and South Africa variants.
The CDC urges people who are eligible to get the vaccination shots. “Based on studies with other viruses containing similar mutations, CDC believes there will be little or no impact on immunity from natural infection or vaccination,” the agency said in a statement this week.
My advice: take the vaccine and stop worrying. “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 7:27)