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Health Team

Duke virologist: 'We don't need to panic' over new coronavirus variants

Posted January 23, 2021 12:13 a.m. EST
Updated January 27, 2021 12:12 p.m. EST

— As new Coronavirus variants emerge, what impact will they have on the effectiveness of vaccines?

As of Friday night, according to the Center for Disease Control, more than 20 states have confirmed COVID-19 cases caused by variants. The total number of cases as of 7 p.m. Friday is 144.

Duke University virologist Dr. David Montefiori’s lab is the only one in the state to study both the U.K. and South African variants. His lab just wrapped up their month-long study this week.

Montefiori emphasized Friday that nothing occurring with the variants is unexpected.

“We don’t need to panic," Montefiori exclaimed. "This virus mutates, it’s not unexpected.”

Montefiori says that both variants appear to be more contagious but not deadlier.

“The U.K. variant is about two to three times less susceptible to the antibodies that the vaccines are inducing," Montefiori explained. "The South African variant is about five or six times less susceptible to those antibodies.”

Although both variants appear to be less susceptible to the antibodies, Montefiori and other experts are cautiously optimistic the vaccines will work against the variants.

“The vaccine’s induce a very, very high level of immunity and even if that is cut in half, that’s still enough to prevent you from getting sick," said UNC Dr. Dirk Dittmer.

Experts don’t believe the south African strain has made it to the U.S. as of yet, but the UK Variant has been in the country for a while now. The question remains: is it in our state?

“You might have seen reports that the B-117 lineage, the British one has been already detected in North Carolina. We haven’t seen it yet, but that might change tomorrow, for all I know,” Dittmer said.

Dr. Montefiori says he doesn’t expect the variants will become a problem here in the U.S. any time soon, but urges the importance of getting vaccinated as soon as possible to help slow the spread.

“The more people that get vaccinated, the fewer transmission events we’re going to have and [it will] slow down the variant that’s here," Montefiori said.

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