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New COVID-19 Variants May Weaken Efficacy of Vaccines

But experts stress that even a weakened vaccine can still largely protect people from a severe case of COVID-19

Coronavirus Blood test laboratory analysis

FRIDAY, Jan. 29, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- The new coronavirus is mutating in an attempt to elude vaccines and treatments, putting a greater onus on Americans to get vaccinated and use social distancing measures to avoid infection, U.S. health officials said Friday.

New COVID-19 variants out of South Africa and Brazil -- B.1.351 and P1, respectively -- contain a mutation called E484K, "which results in changes in the shape of the virus spike protein such that neutralizing antibodies might not bind as well as it does in the absence of the mutation," explained Jay Butler, M.D., deputy director for infectious diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He spoke during a media briefing from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) on Friday.

But experts also stressed that even a weakened vaccine can still largely protect people from what they most fear: a severe case of COVID-19. "When one looks at the potential impact on a very important aspect of what we look at carefully -- namely severe disease -- that overall in the United States, in South Africa and in Brazil, the overall efficacy for severe disease was 85 percent," Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Joe Biden's chief medical advisor, said at a White House briefing on Friday.

Just this week, the South African variant cropped up in two cases in South Carolina and the Brazilian variant was diagnosed in a Minnesota resident who had recently traveled to Brazil. A British variant has a far greater foothold in the United States right now, with 315 cases confirmed in 28 states, according to the CDC. That variant does not seem to dampen the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, however.

Highly infectious COVID-19 variants from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil are expected to overrun the original strain of the novel coronavirus within a matter of weeks, the CDC projects. Models indicate the British variant will become the predominant variant in the United States by mid to late March, and other strains that spread more rapidly between humans are sure to follow, according to Fauci.

More Information: IDSA

More Information: White House

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