Should I Worry about COVID-19 Variants?
Fighting the COVID-19 pandemic has been a marathon, not a sprint. Just as it seemed the finish line was near, with vaccines being approved for emergency use, health officials found new variants of the disease. Along with these new variants come new questions and concerns.
New variations of this virus may understandably make people feel more worried. How will these developments affect the battle against COVID-19? Here are some things you should know about COVID-19 variants.
What Are Virus Variants?
While you may not have heard much about variants before COVID-19 came along, they are nothing new. They are mutations, or changes, that occur in the virus over time. It can be quite common in some viruses, like influenza and COVID-19. You get a yearly influenza vaccine to help protect you against the prevalent strains that might be circulating. Some small changes don’t affect the way the virus works, while others might make it spread more easily or make people more sick.
Are Variants More Dangerous?
A virus does not automatically become more dangerous when it mutates, but variants can change the way the virus affects people. Scientists have identified several new strains of COVID-19, notably variants that first appeared in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil. It will take time to know how new variations of the virus affect people, but there is evidence that some of these strains spread more easily. It isn’t clear yet whether new strains increase the likelihood of severe illness.
Do COVID Vaccines Work Against Variants?
The COVID vaccines are expected to still provide protection against new variants, though the level of effectiveness may be reduced. There is some evidence of lowered effectiveness, but it is hard to tell just how well the vaccines work until there is some real-world data. The vaccines are designed to not just help you avoid infection from COVID-19, but prevent serious illness that would require hospitalization. Vaccine developers are also working to adapt current vaccines to address variants that emerge and provide better protection.
Should I Take Extra Precautions Against Variants?
Health experts continue to emphasize wearing a mask, social distancing, and getting vaccinated, but have not recommended new precautions specifically for new variants. The best way to stop the virus from mutating is to limit its spread in the first place.
“Scientists are still learning about COVID-19 and its variants—and how to fight them,” says Sarah Hilton, a registered nurse. “The best way to protect yourself from the virus is to get a vaccine when you are able.”
New COVID-19 variants can make the finish line seem farther away, but don’t quit the race. The good news is that keeping up the hard work you’ve been doing since the pandemic began is the best tool to help you achieve victory.