We received quite a bit of feedback with the last podcast and requests to discuss specifically the variants and their potential impacts on the current COVID-19 vaccines. It is worth noting that at the time of this publication there is still limited data but we discuss the key concepts and takeaways with the current knowledge we have on the topic.
First, we must remember that viruses mutate frequently. COVID-19 is no different. When vaccines are made, they are designed to have a broad net of coverage. Viruses mutate frequently, but some are better at survival than others and may have the benefit (for the virus) of being more infectious which leads to further spread. The current vaccines focus on the spike protein which provides a rather large net to help even when there are mutations. As long as there is not a significant mutation that gets around the net of the vaccine, they should still be effective.
One example comes with the variants seen coming from the United Kingdom and South Africa that share the spike N501Y substitution. A small (and preliminary, not yet peer-reviewed) study is available preprint on January 7, 2021 that helps demonstrate that these mutations are still covered under the net of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. For now, continued use of the current vaccines is important to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
While the CDC has been attempting to track emerging variant cases in the United States, it is not being done consistently enough to be truly accurate. The three main variants are B.1.1.7 from the UK, B.1.351 from South Africa, and P.1 from Brazil. Currently, there is concern of a potential "escape mutation" with one strain named E484K. This sounds scary because an escape mutation can slip from underneath the safety net a vaccine offers. However, this has not been truly confirmed. It also does not mean that the vaccine will be completely useless, but more likely will be less effective. Fortunately, with the current vaccines they can be reworked in about 4-6 weeks to cover such mutations and extend the net. These are often the same kinds of modifications that are made when we have our seasonal influenza vaccines that have some variations. Still safe and effective like the original vaccine produced.
There are some great epidemiologists that have taken to social media to help describe and discuss some of these important concepts. One called "Your local epidemiologist" (Dr. Katelyn Jetelina) created the graphic above which is up-to-date at this time covering the pertinent details with the main vaccines out there and overall effectiveness. "Friendly Neighbor Epidemiologist" (Dr. Emily Smith) is another great source to find on social media.
Let us know what you think by giving us feedback here in the comments section or contacting us on Twitter or Facebook. Remember to look us up on Libsyn and on Apple Podcasts. If you have any questions you can also comment below, email at email@example.com, or send a message from the page. We hope to talk to everyone again soon. Until then, continue to provide total care everywhere.
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