COVID Variants

Jan 20, 2021

While the United States continues to stay in the grip of COVID-19, more recently there has been much media centered around coronavirus variants emerging in different parts of the world… and now the US. There are reports of different transmission rates, lethality, and vaccine effectiveness with the new strains. Here to answer some questions you may have, from our Medical Director, Dr. Suneet Singh.

Q: So what is a COVID variant?

A: Each Coronavirus carries around 30,000 letters of RNA. That’s right… 30,000! And it’s this genetic information that allows COVID to enter the body and cause mass havoc within the cells. As these infected cells replicate, sometimes mistakes happen and all 30,000 letters aren’t replicated perfectly. And, by definition, an imperfection is a variant!

Q: Are variants bad?

A: Variants happen with every disease. We expect to see variants! You know how we’re constantly trying to predict what version of the flu will come each year? This is because viruses change as time goes by. So first we get a variant, and if the variant is strong enough to survive, it will function similarly to its origin but demonstrate some differences as well. It is at this point that we can call the variant a “strain.” So are variants and strains bad? Well, we expect them to happen. So while they’re not necessarily “bad,” some variants are harder to understand (and treat) than others, which can make eradicating a virus more challenging.

Q: How many COVID variants are there?

A: The exact number of variants haven’t been released because the number has no real bearing on our current situation or what needs to be done going forward. However, there are three variants in particular that we have our eye on: B.1.1.7 - started in Britain, B.1.351 - started in South Africa, and P.1 - started in Brazil.

Q: What is special about those three variants?

A: These variants have shown a special ability to be more contagious than the original COVID strain that created the pandemic. It is actually thought by the CDC that the B.1.1.7 variant could be the dominant source of all infections by the end of March 2021.

Q: Do the COVID vaccines work against variants?

A: In general, the answer is yes. Because variants are predominantly still constituted of the material found in the original version of the virus, the vaccines create an internal immune response that helps fight off variants. But because there are differences that set variants apart from their origin strain, the immune response will not be as strong. The good news is that the vaccines currently on the market have been shown to protect against the most serious outcomes: hospitalizations and death.

Q: What does this mean going forward?

A: We advise vaccinating against COVID when you are eligible to receive the vaccine. Government officials in the CDC, FDA, and EPA are continuing to monitor the situation closely to improve upon various facets of fighting COVID, such as vaccine distribution efforts and improving the efficacy of disinfectants. Much like with the flu vaccine, COVID vaccine manufacturers continue to dedicate time researching the disease and its variants to potentially create new forms of the vaccine, as well as supplements and boosters. So as we make progress against the pandemic, we’ll continue to be just as cautious going forward to ensure that the overall effort remains poised to handle whatever variant arises next.

Dr. Suneet Singh // Medical Director, Remedy

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