What to Know About COVID-19 Variants

You’ve likely heard about COVID-19 variants. Scientists are studying these new virus forms to learn how they spread and affect people, and to understand if our current treatments and vaccines will work against them. Here’s the latest information.

What are variants?

When viruses spread, small changes or mutations happen as they pass from person to person, creating slightly different strains. The good news is that scientists have been keeping an eye on variants of the virus that cause COVID-19 from the beginning.

“These things happen. It’s just the way viruses work. So, there are variant strains now in different parts of the world and some of these variants may impact our treatment decisions,” says Dr. Jennifer Hanrahan, infectious disease specialist at the University of Toledo Physicians Group and ProMedica.

To date, variants have been identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil and in the United States — and some seem to spread more quickly or easily than the original virus.

Do our vaccines work against them?

Ongoing research shows our current COVID-19 vaccines already have quite a bit of ability to protect against new variants. In real world data of people who’ve been vaccinated, the protection has been greater than what we’d ever hoped for. In the beginning when we talked about vaccines, we would have been very happy with a vaccine that was even half as effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths. These vaccines have exceeded everybody’s expectation in their performance and are still highly effective against the variants.

While Dr. Hanrahan believes it’s likely that booster vaccines will be developed in the future, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get vaccinated now. The priority is to stop the spread of the virus and curb the chances it has to mutate and create new strains.

How to Protect Yourself

Protecting yourself from the new variants means continuing to take the same safety measures you’ve grown accustomed to over the past several months, including:

  • Practicing social distancing.
  • Using touchless options to make essential transactions.
  • Washing your hands or using hand sanitizer regularly.
  • Wearing a mask.

“It’s going to be awhile before we can ‘return to normal,’ because these variant strains are going to continue for some time,” says Dr. Hanrahan. “And until we have a really large percentage of the population vaccinated, I think we can expect we’re going to continue to have these precautions in place.”

An End to the Pandemic

While we’re on a good path to end the pandemic, it’s important to remember we aren’t out of the woods yet. Anyone who is eligible to get the vaccine should do so when they can.

“The more we can drive down the opportunities for the virus to replicate, because people are immune,” says Dr. Hanrahan, “the greater the likelihood we won’t continue to have this problem in the future.”

To learn more about the vaccines or make an appointment, visit ProMedica.org.