In a new YouTube video, pulmonary medicine and critical care doctor Mike Hansen, MD addresses some of the most common and pressing questions relating to the new variants of COVID-19 which have been emerging, specifically relating to whether or not the variants are more contagious, and if vaccines will still provide sufficient protection.
There are currently 12 variants of COVID-19 worldwide. While viruses mutate all of the time, Hansen says that the resulting variants often end up being no more dangerous. However, he adds that any viral variants which have an evolutionary advantage will eventually become the dominant form of the virus.
Studies indicate that the UK variant is 55 percent more infectious, which raised the R-rate in the UK to somewhere between 1.5 and 1.7. This B.1.1.7 variant has since been identified in the United States and Canada.
Some potential explanations for the increased infectiousness of this variant include the possibility that people who have been infected shed more of the virus, remain infectious for a longer period of time, or that the variant has a higher viral load or is able to remain stable in environments outside of the body. “The most likely explanation is that it binds better to the H2 receptor, and so far this is what the evidence is suggesting,” says Hansen.
When it comes to the South African variant, Hansen acknowledges that one of the more concerning mutations may enable it to escape some of the antibodies produced by the vaccine or which remain in the body as a result of prior infection. “So far, it looks like the vaccines are still effective,” he says.
Current science states that while new variants may be easier to catch, they are no more deadly than the prior forms of the virus. “The only way to slow the development of new viral variants is to hinder their ability to replicate, and the best way to slow the replication process is through vaccination,” he says. “Achieving herd immunity by vaccinating 80 percent of the population is what will get this done.”
He adds that people who have already had COVID will have around an 83 percent protection against any new variants of the virus for at least five months, but they may still be able to spread the virus to others. “This underlines the continuing importance of masking and distancing for everyone, until herd immunity is achieved,” he says.
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