𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐧𝐞𝐰 𝐔𝐊 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐒𝐨𝐮𝐭𝐡 𝐀𝐟𝐫𝐢𝐜𝐚 𝐯𝐚𝐫𝐢𝐚𝐧𝐭𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐯𝐚𝐜𝐜𝐢𝐧𝐞𝐬 – and, why you need that second shot!

𝐒𝐡𝐨𝐫𝐭 𝐚𝐧𝐬𝐰𝐞𝐫 There are 2 new variants roaming around. As a reminder, viruses mutate a lot. Think of vaccines like a blanket or umbrella that covers a multitude of variants. As long as the variants don’t get around that blanket, we are good. We worry when they mutate enough to get around the vaccines. So far, it looks like the UK and South Africa variants are more contagious (that’s not good), but the vaccines look to work against both (let’s hear it for the science!). Given these variants are more contagious, we need to get vaccines out as quickly as possible.

𝐋𝐨𝐧𝐠𝐞𝐫 𝐚𝐧𝐬𝐰𝐞𝐫: Here’s what we know so far about the UK (B.1.1.7) and South Africa (501.V2) variants:

✅ 1. Both are more contagious (up to 50-70%) which means more cases at once – more cases always translate into more hospitalizations and deaths. So, that’s the worry here. Even though the variants are not associated with a higher risk of severe illness or death if you become infected with them, they ARE associated with more cases that lead to overwhelmed hospital systems. With most hospitals systems being slammed right now, these new variants are a big worry to compounding that problem. We do not have the data needed to know if these variants affect children more – I know you’ve probably seen the headlines pointing to that from the UK, but we don’t know yet.

✅ 2. The UK variant has been found in several states now, including Texas. But, it is more likely spread to lots of other states – we just don’t know it yet – which brings me to #3.

✅ 3. In pandemics (or really even in regular flu seasons), we need to do what is called genome sequencing. This is ongoing surveillance for new variants of viruses that’s part of normal public health systems. In flu seasons, this is how scientists figure out what is circulating to make the flu vaccine or to tell people if the current vaccines might not be protective.

For COVID-19, the US’s federal response to the pandemic from a public health standpoint (contact tracing, adequate testing, etc) has been severely lacking. Part of what has suffered is the lack of genome sequencing. As an example, one of the leading voices on vaccines, Dr. Peter Hotez, said we should be at 1-10 million genomes – we are only at 50,000 (that’s only 0.3% of where we should be). As a comparison, Australia has sequenced 59%, New Zealand is at 49%, Taiwan is 17.7%.

*** Take home point – we aren’t doing the surveillance needed from a federal standpoint – so, new variants are likely circulating before we can detect them. This means continue to be vigilant in masking, distancing, washing hands. But, here’s the good news about the vaccines – which brings me to #4.

✅ 4. The mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) appear effective against these new variants. This highlights the importance of quick vaccine distribution and uptake!

✅ 5. For those of you who have had your first shot, remember to get that second one. I know there’s been chatter on whether vaccines should be spread out more to allow more people to get the first dose from those that should be ready for the second dose. The FDA statements say to stick to the science from the trials – They say to get the second doses and stick to the schedule.

✅ 6. That second dose gives the needed boost for longer term and more robust protection – remember the Bob Ross painting example? Prime and paint the color. =) Here’s that link if you want to read it again. https://tinyurl.com/y83wd84k

⭐⭐⭐ Get those vaccines and be vigilant in the tried-and-true public health precautions with the new variants circulating. It feels like we are running a race – vaccines against the variants. And, I want to win with the vaccines. We can do this, web-peeps. I do think the kinks with the bungled vaccine distribution pipeline we are seeing will be worked out in the coming weeks. If not, someone needs to hire the PTA team that can get 500 kids organized for a end-of-field trip – complete with snacks, awards, spreadsheets, and color-coordinated t-shirts.

-Friendly neighbor epidemiologist

Bob Ross and why you need the second shot: https://tinyurl.com/y83wd84k

Quick explanation on why viruses mutate: https://tinyurl.com/y83wd84k

Pfizer vaccine and the UK, SA variants – https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-pfizer-vaccine/pfizer-biontech-vaccine-appears-effective-against-mutation-in-new-coronavirus-variants-study-idUSL1N2JI2LZ

Variant genome sequencing – https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/12/23/us-leads-world-coronavirus-cases-ranks-43rd-sequencing-check-variants/

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