COVID-19 variants: What we know, what we don’t know

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Here Are the Biggest MythsAbout COVID-19 Variants.Over the past month, the news has beendominated by reports of COVID-19 variants beingfound in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil. .Now those mutated strains are beingdetected in the United States, leaving manyfeeling unsettled and uncertain. .Don’t panic. Here are the four biggest mythsabout the COVID-19 variants: debunked. .Myth 1: The COVID-19 variants came as acomplete surprise to health experts. .According to the CDC, “viruses constantly change through mutation,” meaning these variants were anticipated.In fact, the variants have likely been aroundfor a while, health officials just didn’t noticedue to a lack of genomic sequencing. .Myth 2: The COVID-19 variants are more deadly.According to Eric Vail of Cedars-Sinai, variants typicallybecome “more infectious and less virulent.” .It’s “less likely” that a deadly variant would form becauseviruses want to spread more, not kill their hosts. .Myth 3: The current vaccines do not workagainst the COVID-19 variants. .The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines appear toprotect against the known COVID-19 variants, althoughthey are “less potent” against the South Africa strain. .Thankfully, mRNA vaccine platforms allowfor changes to made quickly, as they can sequenceout the specific mutations as they occur. .Myth 4: We can’t stop COVID-19variants from spreading.All of the preventative measures being usedto fight the original strain of COVID-19 canalso help against the variants. .The most potent tool: getting vaccinated.

Editor’s Note: The question of the increased virulence of newer variants of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still being studied, with evidence that some of the strains are more virulent, contrary to an earlier version of this story. In addition, the FDA has granted emergency use authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines but not final approval. An earlier version of this story said that those two vaccines were approved for use. FDA approval is a longer process that is not yet complete for any COVID vaccine.

New coronavirus variants are continuing to spread.

In Georgia, the U.K.’s mutant strain has already spread in metro Atlanta, infecting at least 23 people so far. That comes days after a South African variant was detected in the U.S. for the first time. There’s also a variant from Brazil.

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With the coronavirus pandemic continuing and new strains emerging, there’s still a lot that is not clear.

Are the new COVID-19 variants more dangerous?

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that the variants’ quicker and easier spread could lead to more cases of COVID-19, which could put additional strain on already crowded hospitals and potentially more deaths, there is also some early evidence that some strains may also be more deadly or likely to cause a severe infection in individuals.

In Britain, an analysis published last week showed up to a 40% increase in the death rate for U.K. variant.

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Are present vaccines effective against COVID-19 variants?

Experts have noted it’s too early to tell for certain whether or not the current vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — will be effective against the variants, but according to Today.com, they expect the vaccines will work against the strains.

“I think this is going to be an evolving situation ... But I do think the news so far is positive, but we don’t know everything that we need to know yet,” Dr. Colleen Kelley, an associate professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine, said.

Still, Kelley, who is involved with the Moderna and Novavax vaccine clinical trials, said “I would say this early data looks good.”

HuffPost reported that as of now, it seems as though the only vaccines with emergency use authorization in the U.S. — Pfizer and Moderna — protect against the new strains to an extent. While Moderna and Pfizer have each noted their vaccines are less potent against the South Africa strain, Stat reported that the vaccines “produce such powerful levels of immune protection... that they should be able to withstand some drop in their potency without really losing their ability to guard people from getting sick.”

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, meanwhile, is a one-dose shot and data indicates it’s not as effective on the South Africa variant but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective at all.

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Were health experts expecting these new variants? Will there be more?

Virus variants are expected — there are also different strains of the flu, for example.

“Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants emerge and persist,” the CDC said.

Julian Tang, a clinical virologist at University of Leicester, told the Washington Post that a mutation in some infections caused by the U.K. variant of the virus is “a worrying development, though not entirely unexpected.”