UC Davis researchers explain COVID-19 variants, how vaccines would respond

Coronavirus

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — In the last few months, researchers have found new mutations of the highly communicable coronavirus in several countries like South Africa, Brazil and the U.K.

More recently, these variants have also found their way to the U.S., showing up in 34 states, with two South African variants confirmed in the Bay Area, but according to Professor Bart Weimer with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, these variants were expected.

“This virus is related to influenza, and with influenza, we get a vaccine every year because it does the same thing, so the changes are very often,” he explained. “They change within the outbreak; they change by location, which is why you’re seeing the virus is named by the location that they found the variants.”

Weimer added these variants will continue to multiply and affect transmission and restrictions.

“It makes the virus more capable of either staying in our systems longer, invading our cells, a whole host of other things that go on,” he continued.

“The latest information that we mostly have from the UK is that it does have a 65% increased risk of death,” UC Davis Dr. Dean Blumberg added.

Moderna, Pfizer and Oxford-Astra Zeneca will now have to change their vaccines, something Blumberg said is an easy and necessary fix.

“They can basically do that in a weekend. They can change it, and then of course after it’s changed, they’re going to need to test it and make sure it’s safe and effective, but they can change it very rapidly,” he said.

This week, Dr. Anthony Fauci said come March or April, it will be open season for all groups to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, something Blumberg and Weimer both agree is an urgent need to prevent future infections.

“We know with the currently available vaccines that they’re 94 to 95% effective in protecting against disease. What I’m hoping is even if they’re less effective with these new variants, they’ll still provide some partial protection,” Blumberg said.

He told FOX40 those who have already been vaccinated are still better protected against these emerging variants than those who have not been vaccinated.

Weimer added that people still need to take precautions.

“Even though we have a vaccine, I wouldn’t get rid of social distancing just yet. And masking: stay vigilant with that,” he said. “We already know variants are circulating in the U.S. We just may not have found them yet.”

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