New strain of COVID-19 explained

Courtesy photo

OPINION — I would like to describe a new variant of the Coronavirus that was detected first in the UK and in South Africa. This variant of the coronavirus is about 50% more contagious than the original strain. It does not seem to be any more virulent than the original strain, it just is more infectious. These variants have also been identified in Europe and in Canada and in all likelihood is circulating undetected in the United States and contributing to the surge in cases observed in the United States over the last 30 days. Fortunately, data obtained in the last few weeks indicate this variant of the virus is still sensitive to the vaccines and therapeutic monoclonal antibodies currently being distributed.

Which brings me to my second topic – status of vaccination in the US. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have both been approved by FDA and 20 million doses are available now for distribution and administration by the end of this year. Unfortunately, only 2 million doses have been administered to date, only one-10th of the planned inoculations: we are woefully behind. South Dakota is still inoculating healthcare workers, for example. A third vaccine, by Astra Zeneca, is being reviewed by the UK authorities. This vaccine is different than that manufactured by Pfizer or Moderna, and, now that the optimal dosing has been worked out, is 95% effective, just like the other vaccines. Its great advantage is that it only requires normal refrigeration, making distribution so much easier than the other vaccines.

Here is the snapshot of the pandemic and our efforts to control it. We have a contagious and lethal disease with a 1% case fatality rate, that is quickly overwhelming our healthcare system. If this continues, we will soon be out of capacity and COVID patients will be triaged for care, with only the cases likely to survive receiving treatment. We have a vaccine that will reduce this burden, but it needs to get into a sufficient number of arms to have an effect. It is a race now to get more vaccine administered before our healthcare succumbs.

What do we do until enough people in the US get vaccinated to begin to reduce the spread of this disease? We can control this virus, now, with social distancing, frequent hand washing and, yes – wearing the damn mask! Please!

Dr. John Andrews, “Doc John” of Lead, has a doctorate in virology, immunology, and microbiology who, after a career in developing prescription drugs, is now working on drug development to target COVID-19. He will be offering columns every two weeks about the progress of finding a vaccine for the virus.

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