Vaccines mostly work against virus variants

Nancy Steele, of the Village of Duval, sits in her car as Cristina Sosa, an RN BSN, prepares to give her the Moderna COVID-19 vaccination at the drive-thru site off of Wedgewood Lane and Tatonka Terrace.

Although variant cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in Central Florida, less than .03% of the population in the tri-county area has been affected so far. And the early outlook on vaccines’ ability to fight off variants, or the changing cell structure of the virus over time, is favorable so far. But nearby South Florida, in particular, is seeing a bigger problem, said Dr. Ira Longini, of the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, and variants are a global problem that calls for greater vaccination levels. “I think the concern is highest for unvaccinated people, including younger people,” Longini said. Here are three things to know about COVID-19 variants:

Which Variants are Here?

As of April 27, Sumter recorded

39 cases of COVID variants, up from 11 on April 2. Marion has 92. Both counties are faring similarly to the home counties to nearby Tampa and Orlando, with Hillsborough checking in slightly worse at 0.4% and slightly better than Orange’s .02%. Among tri-county cases, more than 92% are the U.K. variant; other variants here include California, Brazil and South Africa.

Do Vaccines Stop Variants?

Mostly, yes. Among the prominent variants that have emerged so far, studies are finding that the vaccines are effective, with “some reduced protection” against the South African and Brazilian variants, Longini said. The key is that the virus’ spike proteins retain a similar shape despite mutating, so antibodies can attach themselves. Booster or follow-up doses could provide vaccination for other variants that might emerge.

What Concerns Are Unanswered?

India’s variant is considered a double mutant with changes in transmission and immunity. More are expected: “We’ll see a steady flow of new variants coming until we get to the point where we can control transmission on the entire planet, which we’re not anywhere near at this point,” Longini said. Surveillance of variants in Central Florida needs to improve, he said, and adapting mRNA vaccines similarly to seasonal flu shots remains a challenge.